Arts and Entertainment

Julia Wolfe’s ‘Anthracite Fields’ commemorates coal mining history

Bang on a Can All-Stars to return to Penn State March 30 to perform Pulitzer-winning oratorio

Bang on a Can All-Stars, co-founded by composer Julia Wolfe and accompanied by the Penn State Concert Choir and conductor Christopher Kiver, will perform Wolfe's Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio “Anthracite Fields” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in Eisenhower Auditorium. A Los Angeles Times reviewer called the work “an unforgettably haunting, harrowing evocation of the plight of Pennsylvania’s coal miners.” Credit: Derek V. SmytheAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Bang on a Can All-Stars will present a chapter in Pennsylvania labor history with a presentation of ensemble co-founder Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning experimental-classical composition “Anthracite Fields” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in Eisenhower Auditorium. The Penn State Concert Choir, conducted by Christopher Kiver, will accompany the ensemble.

A folk and classical music-inspired piece, “Anthracite Fields” debuted in Philadelphia in 2014 and earned the Pulitzer the following year. The five-movement oratorio for choir and sextet commemorates the history of coal-mining life in Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. A Los Angeles Times reviewer called the work “an unforgettably haunting, harrowing evocation of the plight of Pennsylvania’s coal miners.” A recording of the work received a 2015 Grammy nomination for best contemporary classical composition.

Wolfe, co-founder of Bang on a Can (with composers Michael Gordon and David Lang) and a professor of music composition at New York University, has written myriad works for string ensembles, quartets and full orchestras, as well as for film and theater. A New York Times critic described her quartets as combining “the violent forward drive of rock music with an aura of minimalist serenity.”

She has mined the history of labor in America to inspire her most recent compositions — coal in “Anthracite Fields” and man vs. machine in “Steel Hammer. In addition to the 2015 Pulitzer, the Philadelphia area native is the recipient of many awards and grants, including the 2015 Herb Alpert Award and a 2016 MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. “Steel Hammer,” which Bang on a Can All-Stars performed at the Center for the Performing Arts in 2009, was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Bang on a Can All-Stars, the touring arm of “marathon” performing ensemble Bang on a Can, is a cross-genre music organization dedicated to presenting new concert music. A San Francisco Chronicle writer called the amplified sextet “the country’s most important vehicle for contemporary music.” Since its founding in 1992, the ensemble has released recordings of compositions by a variety of artists, including Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Glenn Branca.

Penn State Concert Choir has performed throughout the United States and in several foreign countries at venues including Heinz Hall and the Kimmel Center, and with The Rolling Stones at Heinz Field. Kiver, choral director at Penn State’s School of Music, teaches choral conducting and literature courses.

For more information about the production and a related Classical Coffeehouse event, visit the Center for Performing Arts online or call 814-863-0255.

Julia Wolfe discusses her Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Anthracite Fields.” Credit: Red Poppy Music

Watch Wolfe discuss “Anthracite Fields.”

Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring Wolfe, will be held in Eisenhower Auditorium one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders. Artistic Viewpoints regularly fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis. Performers will also participate in a post-performance discussion with the audience.

Lynn Sidehamer Brown and Kimberly Watkins sponsor the performance. The Glenn and Nancy Gamble Endowment provides support. WPSU is the media sponsor.

This engagement of Bang on a Can Inc. is made possible through the ArtsConnect program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Anthracite Fields” is a Pulitzer centennial event. The Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative is a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The initiative seeks to illuminate the impact of journalism and the humanities on American life today, to imagine their future and to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by the body of Pulitzer Prize-winning work. For their generous support for the Campfires Initiative, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council thanks the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pulitzer Prizes Board, and Columbia University.

Patrons are welcome to bring a contribution for a book drive aimed at supporting Mid-State Literacy Council’s efforts to improve reading and learning proficiency in children. New and gently used titles with reading levels of preschool to sixth grade are preferred. Blue collection buckets are located in the Eisenhower lobby during regular business hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday — and during events at the auditorium.

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Last Updated March 02, 2017