Biography

Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women's chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People's Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim — one reviewer called the work "a monumental achievement in high musical drama, among the most commandingly imaginative and emotively potent works of any kind that I've ever experienced." (The Nation Magazine)

The premiere recording of Fire in my mouth was released on Decca Gold, and received two Grammy nominations (best contemporary classical composition; best engineered classical album). The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker: 2009’s Steel Hammer, which examines the folk-hero John Henry, and the 2014 Pulitzer prize-winning work, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length oratorio for chorus and instruments, which draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Mark Swed of the LA Times wrote Anthracite Fields "captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost...but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work."

Wolfe was to have several world premieres during 2020 — all were postponed due to COVID-19: a new work for the Yale Institute of Sacred Music with mixed ensemble; a new work for 12 flutes, commissioned by the National Flute Association, and premiered by twelve separate ensembles (144 flutes); and Her Story​, a new large-scale work for orchestra with the vocal ensemble Lorelei, which was to receive premieres with five orchestras around the country: Nashville, Boston, Chicago, D.C., and San Francisco.

Recent works include Flower Power, a concerto for the Bang on a Can All-Stars co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Danish National Symphony; a new quartet for So Percussion, Forbidden Love (played on string instruments) commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Los Angeles Philharmonic's Noon to Midnight, and the Kennedy Center; Fountain of Youth, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The New World Symphony (who gave the work's premiere), and a consortium of orchestras: Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony.

Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her quartets, as described by The New Yorker, "combine the violent forward drive of rock music with an aura of minimalist serenity [using] the four instruments as a big guitar, whipping psychedelic states of mind into frenzied and ecstatic climaxes." Wolfe's Cruel Sister for string orchestra, inspired by a traditional English ballad, was commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and received its U.S. premiere at the Spoleto Festival. Fuel for string orchestra is a collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison, and Spinning is a multi-media work written for cellist Maya Beiser with visuals by Laurie Olinder. She has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, choreographer Susan Marshall, visual designer Jeff Sugg, and director François Girard, among others. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Muziekgebouw (Netherlands), Barbican Centre (UK), Settembre Musica (Italy), Theatre de la Ville (France), among others. Her music has been recorded on Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo/Decca.

In addition to receiving the Pulitzer Prize, Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, she received the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music, and was named Musical America's 2019 Composer of the Year. She is co-founder/co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can, and she is Artistic Director of NYU Steinhardt Music Composition. Her music is published by Red Poppy, Ltd. (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by Ricordi/Universal Music Classical.

Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women's chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People's Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim — one reviewer called the work "a monumental achievement in high musical drama, among the most commandingly imaginative and emotively potent works of any kind that I've ever experienced." (The Nation Magazine)

The premiere recording of Fire in my mouth was released on Decca Gold and received two Grammy nominations (best contemporary classical composition; best engineered classical album). The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker: 2009’s Steel Hammer, which examines the folk-hero John Henry, and the 2014 Pulitzer prize-winning work, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length oratorio for chorus and instruments, which draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Mark Swed of the LA Times wrote Anthracite Fields "captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost...but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work."

Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world and has been recorded on Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical, Argo and Decca Gold.

In addition to receiving the Pulitzer Prize, Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, she received the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music, and was named Musical America's 2019 Composer of the Year. She is on faculty at the NYU Steinhardt School and is co-founder/co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can. Her music is published by Red Poppy, Ltd. (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by Ricordi/Universal Music Classical.