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 and performed by the Banff Centre, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Opera, The Orchestre Metropolitain, The Spoleto Festival Due Mondi, 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 musical performance which currently stands as the largest shared virtual reality experience to date, The Colorado, which has toured and been in over 30 film festivals and with presenters such as the Met Museum and The Kennedy Center, Con Alma, created during the pandemic reached 150,000 binational spectators in a livestreamed digital experience created with Mexican jazz sensation Magos Herrera that included crowdsourced recordings of “sound of isolation” from contributors around the world and recently premiered at Bellas Artes in it’s live format, and Aging Magician, a combination opera-theater work with puppetry and instrument design for string quartet and children’s chorus which which premiered off Broadway at the New Victory Theater, and most recently at San Diego Opera.
Currently, she is immersed in multiple new operas, including the grand opera Edward Tulane for Minnesota Opera, Sensorium Ex for the Atlanta Opera and Beth Morrison Projects which is a deep dive into what it means to have a voice (for which she received a Ford Foundation grant), and Old Man and the Sea for Carolina Performing Arts and Arizona State University. Her current touring work includes Barcarola for orchestra, which appears next with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Speranza Scappucci. Other works include The Red Book, a string quartet for the Thalea Quartet commissioned by Caramoor, Thrush Song for the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19 featuring Lucy Dhegrae, Hindsight, a piano concerto for Lara Downes touring Oregon Bach Festival, Ravinia, the Cabrillo Festival, and Louisville Orchestra, and a new piano concerto for Awadagin Pratt, A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth.
Recent highlights include performances with the German based vocal group Sjaella, and the theatrical premiere Houses of Zodiac, a multimedia poem for cello for Jeffrey Zeigler, with film by Murat Eyuboglu and dance by Butoh star Dai Matsuoka and NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, which currently is in exhibit at The Broad Museum and will go on to Romaeuropa this fall.
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 in partnership with the Juilliard School and the composition department in collaboration with National Sawdust. Prestini is co-artistic director at the production company VisionIntoArt which produces her large-scale visions. She was a 2021 Paul Fromm Resident in Composition at the American Academy of Rome and a 2021 Sundance Interdisciplinary fellow and her 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 as well as Paul & Daisy Soros. 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 Governor’s Island. Passionate about education, she has partnered with the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall to teach at inner city 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, Tzadik Records, Bright Shiny Things, Six Shooter Records, and Outhere Music. She is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and was born in Italy. She currently makes her home in Brooklyn with her son Tommaso and her husband, the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.