P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Paola Prestini, 1999

Executive Director and Creative Director, National Sawdust

Paola Prestini is an immigrant from Italy

Fellowship awarded to support work towards an MM in Composition at The Juilliard School

 Paola Prestini is a composer whose work explores interdisciplinary forms in conversation with art, science and social justice. She has architected many large-scale projects, from the Hubble Cantata—the first mass VR opera—to Con Alma, her 2020 album with jazz chanteuse Magos Herrera, recorded remotely with over 30 artists across 3 continents. Her compositions have been commissioned and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Barbican Centre, Cannes Film Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center, the LA Philharmonic, LA Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the Minnesota Opera, among others.  

Known for her genre- and glass ceiling-breaking roles, she was the first female composer in the New Works Initiative with her grand opera Edward Tulane (Minnesota Opera), and brought together artificial intelligence and disability visibility in the chamber opera Sensorium Ex (Atlanta Opera and Beth Morrison Projects for the Prototype Festival). In January 2021, she partnered with the Kennedy Center and Apollo Theater to launch Active Hope, an ongoing podcast exploring artistic leadership and social change. Her upcoming works include piano concertos for Awadagin Pratt and A Far Cry, and for Lara Downes with the Louisville Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, and Ravinia Festival.

Prestini is the co-founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn-based arts institution and incubator National Sawdust, where as part of her commitment to the next generation and equity, she started the Hildegard Competition for emerging female, trans, and non-binary composers, and the Blueprint Fellowship for emerging composers with the Juilliard School. She was a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and a Sundance Fellow, and is a graduate of the Juilliard School. Born in Italy, she currently makes her home in Brooklyn with her son Tommaso and her husband, the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

  • MM Composition | The Juilliard School 2000
  • BA Composition | The Juilliard School 1998
Work History
  • National Sawdust, Executive Director and Creative Director
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