Julia Wolfe Wins Music Pulitzer For 'Anthracite Fields'
Julia Wolfe, a composer associated with the New York music collective Bang on a Can, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for Anthracite Fields. The Pulitzer jury described the piece as "a powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th century." The hourlong work was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, which gave the world premiere, along with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, April 26, 2014 in Philadelphia.
Wolfe, a co-founder of Bang on a Can and a former finalist for the prize, is the second composer from the group to win a Pulitzer. David Lang, another co-founder, won in 2008 for The Little Match Girl Passion, also a choral work. The two other finalists in the music category this year were Lei Liang, whose piece Xiaoxiang was described as a concerto for alto saxophone inspired by a widow's wail, and John Zorn, whose piece The Aristos is a "demonstration of the brain in fluid, unpredictable action" for violin, cello and piano.
By telephone Monday afternoon, the 57-year-old composer, originally from Pennsylvania, spoke with me from her home in Manhattan, where she had been reveling in the news with Lang and another Bang on a Can co-founder, her husband, Michael Gordon. Wolfe took more than a year to write and research the work, visiting museums and interviewing miners. While talking to one daughter and granddaughter of miners, Wolfe discovered that in the small mining villages women spruced up their impoverished existences with gardens and flowers. That image, and a list of those flowers, forms one section of the piece.
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