Composer Paola Prestini co-founded National Sawdust in 2015. In her role she guides the creative leadership of the company and helps determine the overall artistic arc of Sawdust along with furthering partnerships and strategic planning.
Prestini is a leader in the global new music scene. Through an illustrious career being equal parts creator and connector, composer Paola Prestini is known both for her “otherworldly…outright gorgeous” music (The New York Times), as well as the “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) and Co-Founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit music organization National Sawdust. As the Wall Street Journal says, many recognize Prestini for “pushing the boundaries of classical music through collaborations.” Over 25 large scale artistic works are the result of Prestini joining forces with conservationists, poets, virtual reality film directors, astrophysicists, and puppeteers. Her independent streak was forged by creating her own multimedia visions during her early days with VisionIntoArt, the collective she co-founded while at the Juilliard School. Now, she balances co-creating independent dream projects with a stream of unique commissions completing her mission to keep her curiosity and learning a constant and evolving force. The values and processes in her daily work as an artist are at the heart of the regenerative systems she has put in place at National Sawdust.
For her efforts, she has made a considerable imprint on the artistic ecosystem: her accolades include being named as one of the “Top 100 Composers in the World” (NPR), one of the “Top 30 Professionals of the Year” (Musical America), one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” (The Washington Post), and Brooklyn Magazine’s 2019 list of “influencers of Brooklyn culture…in perpetuity” alongside household names like Chuck Schumer and Spike Lee. Prestini’s music has been commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the Kennedy Center, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Opera, and The New York Philharmonic, among others.
Prestini is particularly known for her command of multimedia and collaboration, with works such as the Hubble Cantata, a live operatic performance which currently stands as the largest shared virtual reality experience to date, and Aging Magician, a combination opera-theater work with puppetry and instrument design for string quartet and chorus which continues its run of performances at San Diego Opera this season. Currently, she is immersed in multiple new operas, including Edward Tulane for Minnesota Opera, Sensorium Ex for the Atlanta Opera and Beth Morrison Projects, Old Man and the Sea for Carolina Performing Arts and Arizona State University and No One is Forgotten, a radio opera with Sxip Shirey, Winter Miller, Elliott Forrest, Kevin Newbury, Eve Gigliotti and Karen Slack. Houses of Zodiac, her newest recording project and immersive video installation of poems for cello developed at MASS MoCA with cellist Jeffrey Zeilger, features film by Murat Eyuboglu and dance by Dai Matsuoka and Georgina Pazcoguin, with special guests Nels Cline, Tanya Tagaq, Natasha Tretheway, Brenda Shaugnessy and Maria Popova, among others, and will be released this Fall. Other forthcoming works include Hindsight: Let Me See the Sun, a piano concerto for Lara Downes touring Oregon Bach Festival, Ravinia, the Cabrillo Festival, and Louisville Orchestra, and Code, a new piano concerto for Awadagin Pratt, Roomful of Teeth, and A Far Cry. Her collaborators include directors Julian Crouch, R.B. Schlather, Eric Simonson, Thaddeus Strassberger, and Robert Wilson, conductors Julian Wachner and Lidiya Yankovskaya, singers Anthony Roth Costanzo, Helga Davis, Rinde Eckert, and Eve Gigliotti, librettists Mark Campbell and Royce Vavrek, poet Brenda Shaughnessy, filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, indie opera producer Beth Morrison Projects, and the Copenhagen-based social impact/research group Enactlab.
Recent highlights include her work Thrush Song with words by Maria Popova for the New York Philharmonic as part of Project 19; the chamber opera Silent Light commissioned by Banff Centre’s Opera in the 21st Century; a string quartet for the Thalea Quartet at Caramoor; and Con Alma, a global digital project with Magos Herrera focused on finding communion in times of isolation, which featured an album in collaboration with more than 30 artists worldwide, a crowdsourced international social media project, and a digital event with ALL ARTS and the Mexican Secretary of Culture, which was viewed by over 150,000 people on TV, radio, and digital platforms worldwide.
As part of her commitment to equity and mentoring the next generation of musical artists, she started the Hildegard Competition for emerging female, trans, and non-binary composers, and the Blueprint Fellowship (for students in the composition department, mentored by female composers) in partnership with the Juilliard School and the Toulmin Foundation, hosted by National Sawdust. Prestini’s honors include two ASCAP awards, the 2019 Clocktower Award by MASS MoCA in a gala honoring her and artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, and fellowships from the Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program as well as the Paul & Daisy Soros Foundation. She has been granted residencies at MASS MoCA, The Park Avenue Armory, The Watermill Center, Florida’s Hermitage Artist Retreat, Wyoming’s Ucross Foundation, and LMCC Governors Island. Passionate about education, she has partnered with the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall to teach at underprivileged schools in New York, and has worked with children in Italy, Africa, and Mexico, as well as with El Sistema in Venezuela.
Paola Prestini’s music is released on National Sawdust Tracks, Innova, and Tzadik Records. A graduate of The Juilliard School, she studied under Samuel Adler, Robert Beaser, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Born in Italy, she currently makes her home in Brooklyn with her son Tommaso and her husband, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.