Julia Wolfe - Anthracite Fields Recording Featuring the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Bang on a Can All-Stars
“This is a major, profound work.” Mark Swed, LA Times
Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize!
We are very grateful for a generous lead gift from the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation. As a result of this support, we have been given an opportunity to raise the full $25,000 cost of the recording, artist fees, manufacturing, marketing and distribution of this historic work.
Thank you so, so, SO much to all of the donors to this historic project!!
Ty Agens, Andy Akiho, Alex Ambrose, Valerie Angelero, Mary Beath, Eve Beglarian, Tiffany Bell, Rose Bellini & James Holt, Gunther Berkus, Robert D. Bielecki, Susan Bienkowski, Stephen Block, David Bloom, John Bodnar, Scott Brady, Svjetlana Bukrich, Steven M. Carr, Onorio Catenacci, Laura Christensen, Ty Citerman, Laurie Clark, John Cooledge, Nicholas Court, Anthony Creamer, Madeleine Crouch, Leigh Daniels, Werner deFoe, Robert Dickerson, Deborah Dimasi, Pamela Drexel, Daniel Dupré, Mark Eden, Robert Fink, Kevin Frey, Mary Fukagawa, Katie Geissinger, Monica Germino, Aaron Given, Carol Golden, Danielle Gordon, Sara Hardwick, Tim Heckman & Hilary Teplitz, Peter Helm, Tom Hensley, Robert Herczeg, Elliot Hughes, Rebecca Jacobson, Jennifer Jones, Molly Joyce, Frederic Kemp, Ari Korotkin, Terese Loeb Kreuzer, Richard Kuczkowski & Mia Leo, David Kuperman, Pascal Le Boeuf, Thomas Leonard, Herb Leventer, Stuart Levy, Cheryl Lew, Alvin Lucier, Andres Luz, Sam Mawn-Mahlau, Anastasia Mann, Raulee Marcus, Christine Maurus, Bill Mascioli, Sam Mawn-Mahlau, Cindy McBeth-Collins, Laurie McCants, George McNeely, Ian McWilliam, Nicholas Mendonsa, Carl W. Meier, Mark Mellinger, Lisa Miller, Miles Morgan, Chris Morrison, Mark Movic, Bill Murphy, Jean Narveson, Harry Newman, Pete Nashel, Gregory Nigosian, Marc Nowakowski, Macaire Pace, Richard & Lois Pace, Jules Painchaud, Malka Percal, Leland Perry, Roger Phillips, Kevin Poulter, Brian Randolph, Wayne Ransier, Rick Redcay, Steve Reich, Peter Robles, Ford Rogers, Joseph Rojas, Steven Ruoff, Gavin Ryan, David Saltonstall, Eric Sather, David Satkowski, Carsten Schaefer, Ursel Schlicht, Peter Serling, Delea Shand, James Sharp, Milan Simich, Georg Singer, Maria & Robert A. Skirnick, Stephen R. Smith, Jonathan Snipes, Lawrence Stanley, Thomas Steenland, Ron Stern, Mary Stewart, Alanna Stone, Barron Storey, James E. Sundra, Sandy Tait, William Tanzer, Burton Thomas, Jill Tieman, Kyle Tieman-Strauss, Steven Tracy, William Upham, Ruud van Glabbeek, Susan Volkan, Denise Von Glahn, Stephen Wade, George Wallace, Michael Wax, Maureen Weicher, Alexander Weiser, Daniel Wiener, Tomasz Wozniak, Bonnie Wright, Evan Zelermyer
When Julia Wolfe announced her intention to write her second evening-length ode to the American Worker, Anthracite Fields, we were thrilled that she tapped the Bang on a Can All-Stars as the "band." She had been commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club in Philadelphia, a joyous choir dedicated to the canon and to new works by living composers. Together we produced the premiere at a beautiful old church in Philly, and then as part of the NY Philharmonic Biennial, Bang on a Can produced the show at Avery Fisher Hall in NYC. For that performance, we partnered with the phenomenal Choir of Trinity Wall Street.
After rave reviews from audiences, critics and the musicians and singers themselves, it's clearly crucial that we document the piece with the best possible recording. We set about the task, partnering with the generously supportive Trinity Choir, and have reached the point where we can see the end in sight, with your help. With so many moving parts, the recording of this piece has proven to be as big a job as mounting the premieres! As the video above attests, a recording of ensemble and choir is a detailed task. And the results so far have been nothing short of stellar. Enter...you!
We will happily acknowledge your support in any of a number of ways. All you need to do is make a donation, large or small, to the recording, manufacture and distribution of the album. It will be released on Cantaloupe Music in Fall of 2015, and distributed worldwide by NAXOS.
It's a tall order, we know. We need to raise $25,000 all told to cover the remainder of our costs, even after assuming healthy sales upon release. The reality is that Bang on a Can has always relied on the kindness of our dearest friends and fans to make our biggest and best projects come to life. We simply can't sustain the costs of mammoth recording projects alone, and we'd like to offer various incentives for your help. Please see the list here along the right-hand column. We'll be ecstatic to thank you for your generosity!
photo by Derek V. Smythe
MORE ON ANTHRACITE FIELDS:
In Julia Wolfe’s newest work, Anthracite Fields, the Bang on a Can All-Stars team up with SATB choir in a unique oratorio that commemorates the Pennsylvania coal miners whose work fueled the industrial revolution. Drawing from oral histories, interviews, speeches, local rhymes, and featuring the rich instrumental sounds of the region, with scenography and projections by Jeff Sugg, Anthracite Fields provides an intimate look at a particular slice of American life.
Anthracite Fields was written after Wolfe did extensive research about life in the Pennsylvania coal fields where the purest form of coal, anthracite, is found. She found a complex world of political battles and deep cultural expressions.
In some ways the piece is a return to my small town Pennsylvania roots. My aim is to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation and to reveal a bit about who we are as American workers.
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania – Montgomeryville. When we first moved there the road was dirt and the woods surrounding the house offered an endless playground of natural forts and ice skating trails. At the end of the long country road you’d reach the highway – route 309. A right turn (which was the way we almost always turned) led to the city, Philadelphia. A left turn on route 309 (which we hardly ever took) lead to coal country, the anthracite field region. I remember hearing the names of the towns, and though my grandmother grew up in Scranton, everything in that direction, north of my small town, seemed like the wild west.
When the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia commissioned me to write a new work for choir and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, I looked to the anthracite region. Anthracite is the diamond of coal – the purest form. At the turn of the century the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania became the power source for everything from railroads to industry to heating homes. But the life of the miner was difficult and dangerous. I had been immersed in issues of the American worker - composing Steel Hammer, an evening length art-ballad on the legend of John Henry. For Anthracite Fields I went deeper into American labor history – looking at both local and national issues that arose from coal mining. I went down into the coal mines, visited patch towns and the local museums where the life of the miners has been carefully depicted and commemorated. I interviewed retired miners and children of miners who grew up in the patch. The text is culled from oral histories and interviews, local rhymes, a coal advertisement, geological descriptions, a mining accident index, contemporary daily everyday activities that make use of coal power, and an impassioned political speech by John L. Lewis, the head of the United Mine Workers Union.
In the first movement, Foundation, the singers chant the names of miners that appeared on a Pennsylvania Mining Accident index 1869-1916. The list is sadly long. I chose only the Johns with one-syllable last names in alphabetical order. The piece ends with a setting of the very colorful multi-syllabic names. The miners were largely from immigrant families and the diversity of ethnicity is heard in the names. At the center of Foundation is text from geological descriptions of coal formation.
Breaker Boys follows next. There were many boys working in the Pennsylvania coal mines. The younger ones worked in the breakers, which were large ominous structures. The coal would come running down shoots of the breakers, and the boys had the painful job of removing debris from the rush of coal. They were not allowed to wear gloves, the better to feel and grip rock, and their fingers were always cut and scraped raw. The central rhyme of this movement, Mickey Pick-Slate, is from the anthracite region. Others were adapted from children’s street rhymes. In the center of this movement are 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 is the third movement. 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. Lewis was an impassioned spokesperson for the miners and fought hard-won battles for safer working conditions and for compensation.
The fourth movement Flowers was inspired by an interview with Barbara Powell, daughter and granddaughter of miners. She grew up in a Pennsylvania patch town and had many stories to tell about her family life. She never felt poor. She had an amazing sense of community. Barbara talked about how everyone helped each other. In one interview Barbara said, “We all had gardens” and then she began to list the names of flowers.
The last movement Appliances ties the new to the old. I was struck by John L. Lewis’ line “those of us who benefit from that service because we live in comfort.” Our days are filled with activities that require power. Even today coal is fueling the nation, powering electricity. When we bake a cake or grind coffee beans we use coal. 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.”
Anthracite Fields was commissioned through Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program, which was 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&Heritage through Philadelphia Music Project.
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