Oxygen performance video premiere :: Carnegie Hall residency

February 16, 2022

Julia Wolfe’s 2021-2022 Carnegie Hall Debs Composer’s Chair residency commences with the video premiere of Oxygen, a rapid-fire composition for 12 flutes. Written during the pandemic and filmed in October 2021, Oxygen features an all-star cast of flutists coming together to collaborate after more than a year of artistic isolation. The work was commissioned by the National Flute Association and premiered in March 2021 at the Blair School of Music, led by flutist Molly Barth.

At the center of Wolfe’s Carnegie Hall residency are three evenings of her seminal works performed live (in-person) at Zankel Hall:

Steel Hammer – March 3 [event link]
Bang on a Can All-Stars with singers Molly Netter, Rebecca Hargrove, and Sonya Headlam

Steel Hammer is a meditation on over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad. The various versions, based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales, reveal both the evolution of the story, as well as the timeless tale of human versus machine. Many of the facts are unclear, but regardless of the details, John Henry, wielding a steel hammer, faced the onslaught of the industrial age as his super-human strength is challenged in a contest to out-dig an engine. The Bang on a Can All-Stars add a slew of instruments to their usual line up – mountain dulcimer, wooden bones, banjo, harmonicas, and body percussion, as well as a dynamic trio of three female voices to tell the tale.

Cruel Sister – April 13 [event link]
Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman – Music Director and Conductor; Tessa Lark, Violin

The evening of all-strings begins with Weather One by Michael Gordon, inspired by the chaotic scheme of weather patterns, performed by Lubman and Ensemble Signal. Wolfe’s literal foot-stomping violin quintet With a blue dress on is performed by violinist/fiddler Tessa Lark in a version for soloist plus four pre-recorded violins. The evening ends with Ensemble Signal performing Wolfe’s evocative tone poem Cruel Sister, which paints the haunting Scottish story of the love-rivalry between sisters.

Anthracite Fields – May 19 [event link]
Bang on a Can All-Stars; The Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Jeff Sugg, Scenography and Projection Design

The 2015 Pulitzer prize-winning work Anthracite Fields draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. This performance reunites the Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, who gave the 2014 New York premiere.