This month, Williamsburg gets what promises to be a new beacon for contemporary composition, improvisation and the occasional puppet show in New York: National Sawdust. With composer Paola Prestini as the creative and executive director—and a host of curators including Baby’s All Right music director Billy Jones and vanguard composer David T. Little—there’s little doubt the nonprofit space is in good hands. The first month of programming holds great promise, with gigs by drone guitarist Stephen O’Malley and violin star Johnny Gandelsman on the same night, an intimate set from indie-pop duo Majical Cloudz and a series showcasing the work of hyperprolific saxist-composer John Zorn.
As for space, the venue can accommodate 170 people seated or 350 standing, and includes two bars and a restaurant helmed by James Beard Award–winning chef Patrick Connolly. While the brick building’s exterior (and the name of the sawdust factory it once housed) remains, Brooklyn design studio Bureau V completely rebuilt its interior with an eye toward presenting both acoustic and electric music. Here's seven opening-month shows not to miss. By Kurt Gottschalk
Terry Riley Festival
October 5 at 7pm; $35
Few can make drawn-out tones so charming as Terry Riley, who recently marked his 80th birthday. He'll be performing during the three-night run, but the set to catch is on the final night, when vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth premieres his Remember This and a cello octet plays his vintage ArchAngels.
SONiC Festival Afterhours: Visualizing Music: Composers & Video Artists
October 17 at 10pm; $25–30
The fourth night of the roving, nine-day SONiC festival features composition for music and video. Pieces by Sawdust director Paola Prestini and the ethereal Bora Yoon will be performed alongside a world premiere by Christopher Cerrone with a film by Mark Dechiazza.
Theo Bleckmann Presents: John Hollenbeck Likes
October 22 at 8pm; $40
John Hollenbeck has proven himself to be a fantastically clever arranger on his albums Songs I Like A Lot and Songs We Like A Lot, reworking the 5th Dimension, the Carpenters, Queen, Cyndi Lauper and others not for laughs but for guaranteed smiles. Tonight he and his 18-piece band, joined by the silken voice of Theo Bleckmann, pull from their old songbook and present new works based on a Shakespeare sonnet and a Mondrian painting.
Beth Morrison Projects: Persona
October 23, 24 at 8pm; $25
The Boston-based composer Keeril Makan is capable of producing works that are at once unpredictable and surprisingly beautiful. Makan, Bang on a Can All Star Evan Zipporyn and director Jay Schieb have reworked Bergman’s classic film Persona into something they promise will be a "provocative, highly cerebral, and artistically complex depiction of human frailty, cruelty and identity."
Brooklyn Ryder Presents: Johnny Gandelsman Plays Bach
October 25 at 7pm; $25
As a member of the dynamic chamber group Brooklyn Ryder, Johnny Gandelsman is a National Sawdust performer in residence. On his own, he has been exploring (and injecting a palpable excitement into) Bach's work for solo violin. Tonight he covers both of those duties at once.
David T. Little Presents: Newspeak with Choir of Trinity Wall Street & Tim Brady
October 29 at 8pm; $40
Montreal composer Tim Brady is generally a safe bet for invention and invigoration. His Symphony No. 3 receives its U.S. premiere tonight, performed by the “punk classical” ensemble Newspeak and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street.
John Zorn Festival: Magickal Chamber
October 31 at 8pm; $25
Man-about-town John Zorn is occupying National Sawdust for Halloween weekend with a helping of projects and a solo organ concert. The one to catch though is on Halloween night, when an assemblage including the brilliant percussionist William Winant and the extraordinary pianist Stephen Gosling play a program of Zorn’s “Magickal Chamber Music.”