Read LA Times review of
West Coast premiere at Disney Hall
The Los Angeles Master Chorale and
the Bang on a Can All-Stars
“[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.”
— Mark Swed, LA Times
On Sunday, March 6, Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer prize-winning and Grammy-nominated composition, Anthracite Fields, was given its West Coast premiere at Disney Hall by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, performed with “magnificence and gripping feeling.” (Mark Swed, LA Times)
Next month, Julia Wolfe and the Bang on a Can All-Stars travel to Denmark for the European premiere with the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble:
Wolfe wrote the work after doing extensive research about the coal-mining industry in an area very near where she grew up in Pennsylvania. Her text draws on oral histories, interviews with miners and their families, speeches, geographic descriptions, children’s rhymes, and coal advertisements.
In returning home and “looking north – the left turn onto route 309, the road-rarely-taken – I delved into a local history,” Wolfe says. With her loving exploration of the place that seemed mysterious to her as a child, she sought 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.”
The New York Times wrote of the New York premiere of the work, which was a centerpiece of the first NYPHIL BIENNIAL in 2014, “In Ms. Wolfe’s polished and stylistically assured cantata, the overall coherence of the musical material helped her expressions of outrage to burn cleanly and brightly.”
The work won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in music and the recording, 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
Anthracite Fields is written in five movements:
“Foundation”: The singers chant the names of miners that appeared on a Pennsylvania Mining Accident index 1869-1916. At the center of “Foundation” is text from geological descriptions of coal formation.
“Breaker Boys”: Based on local rhymes, this movement also contains the words of Anthony (Shorty) Slick, who worked as a breaker boy. The interview is taken from the documentary film America and Lewis Hine, directed by Nina Rosenblum. Hine worked for the National Child Labor Committee and served as chief photographer for the WPA.
“Speech”: The text is adapted from an excerpt of a speech by John L. Lewis, who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960.
“Flowers”: “Flowers” was inspired by an interview with Barbara Powell, daughter and granddaughter of miners. In one interview she said, “We all had gardens,” and then she began to list the names of the flowers that illuminated their impoverished homes.
“Appliances”: Even today coal is fueling the nation, powering electricity. The closing words of Anthracite Fields are taken from an advertising campaign for the coal-powered railroad. In 1900 Ernest Elmo Calkins created a fictitious character, a New York socialite named Phoebe Snow, who rode the rails to Buffalo. It used to be a dirty business to ride a train. But with the diamond of coal her “gown stayed white from morn till night, on the road to Anthracite,” a stunning contrast to the blackened faces underground.
Anthracite Fields was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. Additional support was made possible through the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Alan Harler New Ventures Fund, The Presser Foundation, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.