In April, the Bang on a Can All-Stars travel to Europe for a blockbuster set of concerts, including the European premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields and the Dutch premiere of her Steel Hammer.
On Saturday April 16, Wolfe’s Pulitzer prize-winning, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length work for chorus and instruments, receives its European premiere with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble at The Royal Library of Denmark, Copenhagen
The recording of Anthracite Fields on Cantaloupe Music was nominated for a 2016 Grammy award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
“My aim with Anthracite Fields is to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation, and to reveal a bit about who we are as American workers.”
— Julia Wolfe
On April 20-21 the All-Stars reunite with the stunning Norwegian singers Trio Mediaeval for the Dutch premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer, performances on April 20 are at Laurenskerk, Rotterdam (presented by De Doelen) and April 21 at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam.
Wolfe writes about the music:
Steel Hammer is inspired by my love for the legends and music of Appalachia. The text is culled from the over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad. The various versions, based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales, explore the subject of human vs. machine in this quintessential American legend. Many of the facts are unclear – some say he’s from West Virginia – some say he’s from South Carolina – some say he’s from New Jersey… But regardless of the details, John Henry, wielding a steel hammer, faces the onslaught of the industrial age as his super human strength is challenged in a contest to out dig an engine. I drew upon the extreme variations of the story, fragmenting and weaving the contradictory versions of the ballad that have circulated since the late 1800s in to a new whole – at times meditating on single words or phrases – in order to tell the story of the story – to embody the simultaneous diverse paths it traveled.
The sounds of Appalachia have long been a part of my musical consciousness. (My first public music performance was on mountain dulcimer). I have referenced the folk music influence in many of my other works – Four Marys (for string quartet) and Cruel Sister (for string orchestra) take folk tales as the inspiration for the music. LAD (for 9 bagpipes), and Accordion Love (accordion concerto) explore and experiment with folk performance traditions. In Steel Hammer, I’m calling on the Bang on a Can All-Stars to expand out from their usual instrumentation to include the likes of dulcimers and bones, and accessing Trio Mediæval’s extensive work in their native vocal traditions.
— Julia Wolfe