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Special Reports

MA 30 The Innovators: Paola Prestini

December 6, 2016 | By Bruce Hodges

Composer Executive Director/Creative Director, National Sawdust

A composer whose interests encompass much more, Paola Prestini embodies the best kind of restlessness. In 1999, when she was a student at The Juilliard School, she founded VisionIntoArt (VIA), a collective that commissions and presents new works, focusing on collaborations with choreographers, visual artists, actors, and composers. Since then, VIA creations have been seen across the country and around the world, in mainstream venues such as New York’s Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and in locales as far away as Serbia and Zimbabwe. Extending its reach, VIA has released eight recordings under the VIA Records label.

Among her more notable works are the 60-minute Oceanic Verses (2010), commissioned by Carnegie Hall, recorded by the DeCoda Ensemble and Trinity Choir, conducted by Julian Wachner. In August 2016, The Hubble—according to Prestini, the firstever live music event using virtual reality—combined music and astrophysics with cutting-edge technology, for an audience of 6,000 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

For most composers, the act of creating music is all-consuming, but Prestini seems to have other strains of innovation coursing through her veins. The New York Times has accurately described her as a “human resources alchemist,” and indeed she has a remarkable ability to assemble and nurture artists and other professionals, and to create intriguing collaborations.

The culmination of her skills came in October 2015, when after years of planning, fundraising, and consulting with architects, designers, and musicians, she and her team opened National Sawdust in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Housed in a turn-of-the-century sawdust factory, the venue is “a home for curious artists and listeners,” according to Prestini, an intimate, state-of-the-art performance space, notable not only for the striking visual appeal of its interior, but for the clarity of its acoustics.

“I want to give other composers and artists the kinds of opportunities that would have helped me when I was in my 20s,” she says. “I believe that by giving artists the reins to program the space and by lending support to their projects in the early phases of development, we will make a unique contribution to New York City’s musical ecosystem.”


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