Julia Wolfe, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in music, draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.
Her Pulitzer-winning concert-length oratorio, Anthracite Fields for chorus and instruments, 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's music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. Recent projects include her evening-length Steel Hammer for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers which is touring in an expanded theatrical form with director Anne Bogart and her SITI Company and received its New York premiere at BAM’s 2015 Next Wave festival. Wolfe’s body concerto riSE and fLY, commissioned by the BBC and performed last season by the Cincinnati Symphony, featured percussionist Colin Currie playing rapid-fire body slaps and street percussion. The New York Philharmonic recently announced her new evening-length commission for orchestra and women's chorus that will premiere in the fall of 2018. For the Philharmonic commission, Wolfe continues her interest in American labor history with the subject of women in New York's garment industry at the turn of the century.
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. She has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, choreographer Susan Marshall, designers Jeff Sugg and Jim Findlay, and director François Girard, among others. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world, including the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, LG Arts Center (South Korea), Settembre Musica (Italy), Theatre de la Ville (France), the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall, and has been recorded on Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo/Decca.
In 2009 Wolfe joined the NYU Steinhardt School composition faculty. Wolfe is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. Her music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.