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.
Her Pulitzer prize-winning work, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length oratorio 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."
Recent projects include her evening-length Steel Hammer for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers which toured in an expanded theatrical form with director Anne Bogart and her SITI Company. In January 2019, the New York Philharmonic premiered Fire in my mouth, Wolfe's large-scale work for orchestra and women's chorus, continuing her interest in American labor history with the subject of women in New York's garment industry at the turn of the century. Upcoming projects include new works for So Percussion, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New World Symphony.
She 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 Deavere 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.
Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow and was a recipient of the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music. 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 G. Schirmer, Inc.