NY Phil commission: orchestra & chorus

July 22, 2016

As part of the New York Commissions to honor the New York Philharmonic’s 175th season (2016-17) with New York-themed works by New York-based composers who have strong ties to the Philharmonic, Julia Wolfe presents a new evening-length piece for orchestra and women’s choir about women in the American work force. The Philharmonic plans to present this piece in 2018-19.

Wolfe has previously explored American labor history with Steel Hammer, her reimagining of the John Henry legend, and Anthracite Fields, an oratorio about Pennsylvania coal miners. Anthracite Fields was first presented by the Philharmonic at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music, while the recording with the Bang on a Can All Stars and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street is currently nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. This spring, violinist Jennifer Koh will premiere a new piece by Wolfe at the second NY PHIL BIENNIAL as part of Koh’s Shared Madness program.

Following her signature intensive research methods, Wolfe will draw on oral histories, interviews, and historical writings to recreate the world of women working in New York garment factories in the early 20th century. Jeff Sugg’s video projection and stage-design will illuminate the premiere. In the next few seasons, as Wolfe gathers information about the events and the characters, she will also lead workshops at the Philharmonic’s three commissioning partners: Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley; the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Campus-wide discussions about history, music, and creative writing will be an important part of Wolfe’s writing process.

Her previous works on labor history have had extended lives beyond the premieres, with a Steel Hammer stage show and a performance of Anthracite Fields in coal country. The Steel Hammer stage show, which toured the country this fall before ending at BAM’s New Wave Festival, incorporated the work of four American playwrights into the original art ballad and was received as “spectacularly inventive and original music theater,” by the Los Angeles Times. At the same time, Wolfe took the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street to Pennsylvania coal country to share Anthracite Fields with the community who inspired her, in a benefit concert for the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton.

Listen to a Studio 360 interview with Wolfe’s about her Pulitzer-winning work.