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Volume 5 of National Sawdust's Digital Discovery Festival Features New Concerts From Amir ElSaffar and More

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Volume 5 of National Sawdust's Digital Discovery Festival Features New Concerts From Amir ElSaffar and More

National Sawdust's physical doors are still closed but, thanks to a generous grant from the Alphadyne Foundation, the mission of providing artists the resources and support they need to create and present new work continues with the Digital Discovery Festival, featuring over 100 artists from May through August. All past and present Digital Discovery Festival events are accessible on the newly-constructed Live@NationalSawdust website, as well as on Facebook Live, entirely free of charge.

Each week, the Festival's performing artists are provided with a thematic guideline and invited to create within that gentle boundary. For the week of June 1st, our theme is Global Bridges, featuring artists from an array of unique ethnic and national backgrounds. "The experience of quarantining in one of the world's great population centers is so dispiriting that it can make you forget just why we all flocked here in the first place," says series curator and National Sawdust Programming Director Nicole Merritt Chari. "That's why it's so important for us to be able to prove that we can still reap the benefits of the urban experiment by presenting a Festival lineup with artists from around the world who have found their voices in New York City."

With that spirit in mind, National Sawdust will present a recital from the America composer and pianist Conrad Tao on June 2; a dual performance from four-time Downbeat Critics Poll Rising Female Vocalist nominee Thana Alexa and Pat Metheny sideman and Birdman Original Soundtrack composer, percussionist Antonio Sánchez on June 4; plus a Masterclass conversation-performance with vocalist Helga Davis, composer and National Sawdust co-founder Paola Prestini and jazz/classical/Arab-traditional fusion innovator Amir ElSaffar on June 5.

Completing our trip around the world, National Sawdust will release, for the first time, two classic concerts from earlier in the venue's history: from 2018, the multitalented Cuban singer, actress, composer and Yerba Buena co-founder Cucu Diamantes presenting the musical theater cabaret The Sins of Picasso and, from 2019's FERUS Festival, Chinese composer Huang Ruo's spatially-sprawling multimedia opera, The Sonic Great Wall.

Following Global Bridges, the Digital Discovery Festival continues with a week of upheaval and chaos as we celebrate artists who incite Rebellion, featuring Discovery concerts from Rafiq Bhatia (June 9 at 6pm), Lucy Dhegrae (June 11 at 6pm), a masterclass performance from Ted Hearne (June 12 at 1pm), plus archival releases from Jenny Hval and LATASHÁ (both scheduled to go live on June 10 at 8pm).

Digital Discovery Festival: Global Bridges

Discovery Performances

Tuesday, June 2 - First Airing at 6PM


Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Conrad Tao has appeared worldwide as a pianist and composer, and has been dubbed a musician of "probing intellect and open-hearted vision" by The New York Times, who also cited him "one of five classical music faces to watch" in the 2018-19 season. Tao is a recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and was named a Gilmore Young Artist - an honor awarded every two years highlighting the most promising American pianists of the new generation.

Thursday, June 4 - First Airing at 6PM


Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Surprising is the word that perhaps best describes Thana Alexa, an extraordinarily creative force in music. An awe-inspiring vocalist, composer, and arranger - for whom the voice is both a lyrical and experimental instrument - her music pushes the boundaries of the genre into new and unexplored territory with deep seeded roots in jazz and overtones of contemporary soul and world music. Her newest album, Ona, draws influence from the life experiences of women, starting with the women in her family, and branches out to paint a picture of the experiences of women in modern society as a whole. The album speaks to us musically about every facet of womanhood, conveying a message of strength and empowerment. It is riveting, yet gentle, activist driven, and surprising. Perhaps Alexa's most important and ongoing collaboration has been with her husband, five-time Grammy winner Antonio Sánchez (composer for the Oscar winning Birdman film and drummer with Pat Metheny for 20 years). Together with his band Migration they have recorded three critically acclaimed albums including the most recent CAM Jazz recording Lines in the Sand, a protest record about the immigrant experience. The group has toured worldwide and electrified audiences throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Masterclass Performance and Conversation

Moderated by Paola Prestini and Helga Davis

Friday, June 5 - First Airing at 1PM

Amir ElSaffar

Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Composer, trumpeter, santur player, and vocalist Amir ElSaffar has been described as "uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music," (The Wire) and "one of the most promising figures in jazz today" (Chicago Tribune). A recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2018 US Artist Fellow, ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background, conversant not only in the language of contemporary jazz, but has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the subtle microtones found in Iraqi maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, and has received commissions to compose for large and small jazz ensembles, traditional Middle Eastern ensembles, chamber orchestras, string quartets, and contemporary music ensembles, as well as dance troupes.

Archival Releases

Wednesday, June 3 - First Airing at 8PM

CUCU DIAMANTES: The Sins of Picasso

First Performed at National Sawdust on March 8, 2018

Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

PECADOS DE PICASSO (The Sins of Picasso) is a musical theater jazz cabaret piece by Grammy nominated singer and songwriter CuCu Diamantes. Evoking themes of the #MeToo movement, the performance exposes the sordid and overlooked history of famous artists from the 20th century, namely, their treatment of women, minorities and creative communities in their personal lives, and consequently, their art. Musically, the themes are a mosaic of melodies and rhythms that combine a respect for traditional Cuban and Latin music with contemporary arrangements. Discerning listeners will hear the picaresque, double entendre of traditional trova cubana, with references to 20th century art and culture.

Wednesday, June 3 - First Airing at 8PM

Huang Ruo: The Sonic Great Wall

First Performed at National Sawdust on January 7, 2019

Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

What does a "wall" mean to you, and how can we break down barriers? Sonic Great Wall is a sonic, spatial, visual, and participatory project by composer Huang Ruo that explores new music for new audiences. The ancient Great Wall of China is one of the world's earliest and largest communication projects. Inspired by that Great Wall, Sonic Great Wall uses new music to reach, connect, and engage audiences with performers. The performance-installation piece is redesigned for each site at which it is performed. Inspired by the Great Wall's structure, "watchtowers" are created as mini-stages for the performers, with connecting "walls" made of audience members seated on benches or rows of chairs facing one another. Performers move between the watchtowers throughout the piece, while audiences are invited to participate in sound-making through humming, breathing, whispering, and other simple effects, representing the spirits guarding the Great Wall. Audiences are also invited to whisper poems themed around ideas of death, life, love, earth, fire, water, light, connection, and silence, which are crowd-sourced in advance of the performance.

Digital Discovery Festival: Rebellion

Discovery Performances

Tuesday, June 9 - First Airing at 6PM


Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Composer and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, "one of the most intriguing figures in music today" (The New York Times), is an omnivorous experimentalist who moves fluidly between jazz and rock, acoustic and electronic, and Indian and American musical influences. In his latest project, Standards Vol. 1, he collaborates with some of jazz's most distinguished musicians on a surprising and oblique take on the canonical jazz repertoire. The results retain some of the texture and feeling of jazz, but sit firmly outside of the music's conventions. You may have heard these songs before, but you've never heard them like this.

Thursday, June 11 - First Airing at 6PM


Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

"Vocal versatility and an omnivorous curiosity" (The New York Times) are the hallmarks of vocalist Lucy Dhegrae, a passionate singer with a flexible technique that fits a variety of styles. Among her many accomplishments, Lucy has been featured in the Mostly Mozart Festival and has performed at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. She founded and directs the Resonant Bodies Festival, an international presenter of boundary-pushing contemporary music vocalists. Dhegrae will also be joined by pianist Nathaniel LaNasa.

Masterclass Performance and Conversation

Moderated by Paola Prestini and Helga Davis

Friday, June 12 - First Airing at 1PM


Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Acclaimed for making audacious, politically acute music for our time that traverses boundaries of style and discipline, composer and singer Ted Hearne has been heralded for producing "some of the most expressive socially engaged music in recent memory" (Pitchfork).

Archival Releases

Wednesday, June 10 - First Airing at 8PM


First Performed at National Sawdust on December 18, 2017

Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

At first listen, The Practice of Love, Jenny Hval's seventh and newest full-length album, unspools with an almost deceptive ease. Across eight tracks, filled with arpeggiated synth washes and the kind of lilting beats that might have drifted, loose and unmoored, from some forgotten mid-'90s trance single, The Practice of Love feels, first and foremost, compellingly humane. It is an album about "seeing things from above - almost like looking straight down into the ground, all of these vibrant forest landscapes, the type of nature where you might find a porn magazine at a certain place in the woods and everyone would know where it was, but even that would just become rotting paper, eventually melting into the ground."

Wednesday, June 10 - First Airing at 8PM

LATASHÁ: Women's Truth

First Performed at National Sawdust on March 25, 2017

Stream at Live@NationalSawdust

Women's Truth is a raw and honest exploration into the minds and hearts of an array of women's theory and experiences. Curated by former National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence LATASHÁ, Women's Truth allows the audience to feel out the challenges and triumphs of womanhood through women living in different walks of life, finding common grounds for communication to begin, especially generationally and racially. The evening features special performances and sounds from Snap, Orisha Love, Hannah Sumner and LATASHÁ, concluding the night with a special cross generational panel of women in all forms of artistry spanning from political speech writers, activists, and performance artists. The goal is to start moving forward to understand each other and work together towards pushing the boundaries of the Femme Language.

Previous Digital Discovery Festival Events - Available to Stream Free Now:

Volume 1: Spirituality

Samora Pinderhughes (Discovery Concert)

Vijay Gupta and Reena Esmail (Masterclass)

Laraaji (Archive)

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith (Archive)

Volume 2: Social Change

Kinan Azmeh (Discovery Concert)

Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Masterclass)

Felipe Salles: The New Immigrant Experience (Archive)

Meredith Monk and Ani Choying Drolma (Archive)

Volume 3: Risk-Takers

Emel Mathlouthi (Discovery Concert)

Mariella Haubs (Discovery Concert)

Alicia Hall Moran featuring Jason Moran (Masterclass)

Miho Hazama (Archive)

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider (Archive)

Volume 4: Sonic Landscapes

Emily Wells (Discovery Concert)

Ashley Bathgate (Discovery Concert)

Vijay Iyer (Masterclass)

Ryuichi Sakamoto with Taylor Deupree, Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann (Archive)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (Archive)

Sxip Shirey and Coco Karol: The Gauntlet (Archive)

Upcoming Digital Discovery Festival Concerts and Masterclasses

Volume 5: Global Bridges

Tuesday, June 2 at 6pm: Conrad Tao (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, June 4 at 6pm: Thana Alexa and Antonio Sánchez (Discovery Concert)

Friday, June 5 at 1pm: Amir ElSaffar (Masterclass)

Volume 6: Rebellion

Tuesday, June 9 at 6pm: Rafiq Bhatia (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, June 11 at 6pm: Lucy Dhegrae (Discovery Concert)

Friday, June 12 at 1pm: Ted Hearne (Masterclass)

Volume 7: Movement & Music

Tuesday, June 16 at 6pm: Sxip and Coco (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, June 18 at 6pm: Dayramir Gonzalez (Discovery Concert)

Friday, June 19 at 1pm: Anthony Roth Costanzo (Masterclass)

Volume 8: Pride Week

Tuesday, June 23 at 6pm: Kangmin Justin Kim (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, June 25 at 6pm: Adam Tendler (Discovery Concert)

Friday, June 26 at 1pm: Jamie Barton (Masterclass)

Volume 9: A/V

Tuesday, June 30 at 6pm: Drum & Lace (Discovery Concert)

Friday, July 3 at 1pm: Robert Wilson (Masterclass)

Volume 10: Activism

Tuesday, July 7 at 6pm: Andrew Yee (Discovery Concert)

Friday, July 10 at 1pm: Lara St. John (Masterclass)

Volume 11: Music & Tech

Tuesday, July 14 at 6pm: Dan Tepfer (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, July 16 at 6pm: Molly Joyce (Discovery Concert)

Friday, July 17 at 1pm: Jennifer Walshe (Masterclass)

Volume 12: Patterns

Tuesday, July 21 at 6pm: Joel Ross (Discovery Concert)

Friday, July 24 at 1pm: Cameron Carpenter (Masterclass)

Volume 13: Virtuosity

Tuesday, July 28 at 6pm: Julian Lage (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, July 30 at 6pm: Sae Hashimoto (Discovery Concert)

Volume 14: Reimagining Songs

Tuesday, August 4 at 6pm: Michael Mwenso & Vuyo Sotashe (Discovery Concert)

Volume 15: Innovation

Tuesday, August 11 at 6pm: Brooklyn Rider (Discovery Concert)

Thursday, August 13 at 6pm: John Holliday (Discovery Concert)

Friday, August 14 at 1pm: Trimpin (Masterclass)

More performances and masterclasses to be announced soon!

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