National Sawdust, the renowned music incubator and non-profit, announced today the final lineup for its annual FERUS Festival on January 11, 12, 15, and 16. Billed as a celebration of “untamed voices,” the FERUS Festival presents the latest in cutting-edge new music, with an emphasis on performances that push the envelope. Held for the third time at National Sawdust, this year the festival hosts four performances, all featuring new work that transcends traditional tropes in music. Showcasing London-based multi-instrumentalist and DJ Bishi, a performance of Donnacha Dennehy's music by violist and Peabody Award-winning “Meet the Composer” host Nadia Sirota with gamba player Liam Byrne, experimental performer and composer Sxip Shirey, and the emerging mavericks and 2017 M-Prize-winners Russian Renaissance, this year’s FERUS lineup confirms National Sawdust’s status as “a major player on the new-music scene” (Washington Post). As the New Yorker puts it: “Artistically, National Sawdust’s young and novel presence on the New York scene has been a smashing success.”
On Thursday, January 11, Bishi kicks off the festival with the world premiere of her song cycle, The Good Immigrant. Based on a British essay collection edited by Nikesh Shukla about race and identity, the cycle is scored for voice looper, sitar, and electronics, and produced in collaboration with composer and sound designer Jeff Cook. British-born to Bengali immigrants and adopted by London’s alternative queer nightlife community, in The Good Immigrant Bishi explores issues that have defined her own life: identity, belonging, and the search for a middle way between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
On Friday, January 12, Nadia Sirota and Liam Byrne perform Tessellatum, which combines music and film. Collaboratively created by composer Donnacha Dennehy and animator Steven Mertens, this multimedia work addresses the concept of “man vs. nature.” Mertens’s electric animation toggles back and forth between the perfect symmetries of manmade geometrics and the ocean’s natural irregularity, while Dennehy’s addictive timbres alternate between human tuning systems and the resonances found in nature. Sharing the same forms and structures, the music and animation support and complement each other to create a powerfully moving work of art. Written for the unusual instrumentation of 11 bass viols and 5 violas, the performance will feature Sirota and Byrne playing live, with the rest of the parts multi-tracked behind them.
On Monday, January 15, Sxip Shirey introduces audiences to his eclectic sound-world through three of his own compositions about death, disappearance, and returning home. The first, “Latency, an Elegy for David Bowie,” uses hocketing, cellphones, and other media to play with the concept of delay and feedback through latency. Scored for code key, piano, and glass harmonica, the second, “Amelia Found,” incorporates messages from members of the audience, rendering them in Morse code and sending them up to the heavens in tribute to Amelia Earhart. In Shirey’s final work, “The Gauntlet: Sing me a Lullaby as Under Water,” the composer joins forces with choral ensemble and National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence Choral Chameleon to develop his “gauntlet” concept, which sees audience members walk between rows of singers, becoming immersed in sound as lines of music pass from one singer to the next. The evening features appearances by the dancer Coco Karol, who also choreographs, alt-pop singer Natti Vogel, and puppeteers Basil Twist, Erin Orr, and Chris Green.
Finally, on Tuesday, January 16, Russian Renaissance will live-score scenes from iconic Italian films, including La Dolce Vita and The Bicycle Thief. Heralded as “ferocious” by M-Prize critic Martin Slagter, the ensemble comprises some of the leading exponents of four traditional Russian instruments: the stringed balalaika, domra, button accordion, and balalaika-contrabasso.
Composer Paola Prestini, the Artistic Director of National Sawdust, comments: “I am proud to continue the tradition of the FERUS Festival this year, and to present artists who are both addressing seminal issues of our time and adding essential innovation to the music field. FERUS serves as our showcase for work that we have commissioned and endorsed, in hopes that it finds life beyond our walls. As I’ve found in my own career as a composer, my most satisfying work has come when I’ve taken more risks, not fewer. In that spirit, the FERUS Festival is our annual green light for artists to show, with no restrictions, how spectacular the artistic experience in New York can truly be.”