Julia Wolfe's 'Anthracite Fields' Wins Pulitzer Prize for Music

Monday, April 20, 2015 - 03:30 PM

Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields featuring Bang on a Can All-Stars Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields featuring Bang on a Can All-Stars (Chris Lee)

Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields, a multimedia oratorio about the plight of Pennsylvania coal miners, has won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for music.

The 45-minute piece for chorus and instrumental sextet was premiered in April 2014 by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia along with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the house band of the organization Bang on a Can, of which Wolfe is a founding member. The piece was commissioned by Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program.

Julia Wolfe

 According to a program note, Anthracite Fields draws on historical texts and data to examine Pennsylvania mining culture. Anthracite is a kind of coal that burns hotter and longer and was prized for residential and industrial purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its mining became a foundation of Pennsylvania's economy during this period. Wolfe's piece cites names of miners who were killed or injured in the mines and texts from a labor movement speech; she also pays tribute to the women of the mining community.                     

Also in the running for the $10,000 prize were Lei Liang's saxophone concerto Xiaoxiang and John Zorn's The Aristos, for violin, cello and piano.

A Philadelphia native, Wolfe has been active in New York's downtown music scene since the early 1980s. Many of her works, for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and other performing groups, draw on elements of minimalism and rock, frequently making use of extreme ranges and volumes. She is currently a composition professor at New York University.

Wolfe's piece Steel Hammer was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. 

The jury for the prize consisted of Carol Oja, a professor of music at Harvard University (Chair); Steven Mackey, a composer and professor of music at Princeton University; Maria Schneider, a composer and bandleader; and Mark Swed, music critic of the Los Angeles Times. In a review of Wolfe's piece at the NY Phil Biennial, Swed wrote, "The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work."

Listen to the movement "Flowers" from the work:

And watch a preview of the work:

 

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Comments [1]

CONCETTA NARDONE from Nassau

My husband has two uncles who had black lung disease from working in the mines in Pennsylvania. My mother in law remembered the company "goons"
and the police who helped the goons.

Apr. 21 2015 07:22 AM

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