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.
Wolfe’s Her Story, a 45-minute semi-staged work for orchestra and women’s chamber choir, receives its world premiere on September 15, 2022 with the Nashville Symphony and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. Co-commissioned by a consortium of five American orchestras, all performances feature the vocal ensemble Lorelei, with stage direction by Anne Kauffman, lighting design by Jeff Sugg, costumes by Márion Talán de la Rosa, and sound design by Andrew Cotton. The world premiere is followed by performances in the 2022-23 season from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (January 6–7), Boston Symphony Orchestra (March 16–18), and San Francisco Symphony (May 25–27); dates with additional commissioner National Symphony Orchestra will be announced at a later date. Her Story invokes the words of historical figures and the spirit of pivotal moments to pay tribute to the centuries of ongoing struggle for equal rights and representation for women in America.
The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women’s chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim — one reviewer called the work “a monumental achievement in high musical drama, among the most commandingly imaginative and emotively potent works of any kind that I’ve ever experienced.” (The Nation Magazine) The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker: 2009’s Steel Hammer examines the folk-hero John Henry, and the 2015 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.”
Other recent works include Forbidden Love (2019), a string quartet performed by percussionists, written for Sō Percussion and co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the LA Philharmonic, and the Kennedy Center; Flower Power (2020), a concerto for the Bang on a Can All-Stars co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Danish National Symphony; and Oxygen (2021) for 12 flutes, commissioned by the National Flute Association — a version for twelve flute choirs (144 flutes) was premiered in August 2022 at the National Flute Convention in Chicago.
Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her quartets “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.” (The New Yorker Magazine) 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.
Wolfe has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deavere Smith, projection/scenic designer Jeff Sugg, filmmaker Bill Morrison, visual artist Laurie Olinder, and directors Anne Bogart, François Girard, and Anne Kauffman, among others. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, Muziekgebouw (Netherlands), Southbank and Barbican Centres (UK), Settembre Musica (Italy), and Theatre de la Ville (France.) Wolfe’s music has been recorded on Decca Gold, Naxos, Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Sony Classical, and Universal.
In addition to receiving the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. She received the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music, and was named Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year. Julia Wolfe 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.