Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Presenting an Immersive World Premiere Production of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields

Wolfe’s Newest Work Inspired by the Hard Realities, Heated Labor History and Rich Folklore of the Ethnic Mining Communities of Northeastern Pennsylvania

(PHILADELPHIA)  For two days in late April, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia will combine voice, music, movement and lighting to transport audiences deep down into the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania and into the hearts and souls of coal miners and their families. Oral histories, interviews, speeches, geographic descriptions, local rhymes, coal industry advertisements–composer Julia Wolfe tapped into these primary sources to create the sounds and libretto of Anthracite Fields. The world premiere of Anthracite Fields will be presented at 4 pm & 7:30 pm on Saturday, April 26 and at 4 pm & 7:30 pm on Sunday, April 27 at the historic Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral (circa 1906).

Mendelssohn Club, a symphonic-size chorus of more than 140 voices, will bring this new classical hybrid to life along with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, an ensemble using classical and folk instruments.  Award-winning Broadway lighting & set designer Jeff Sugg has created unique video projections and immersive scenographics for this world premiere production.  Katie Coble is designing special coal-themed tunics and dancer/ choreographer Leah Stein is choreographing the specific movements of the chorus within the cathedral.

Anthracite Fields represents a return to my small town Pennsylvania roots,” says Wolfe. “I want to honor the people who persevered and endured in a specific coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation and also to reveal a bit about who we all are as workers in America.” Wolfe, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, has always been interested in folk legends and personal narratives. For her latest work, she collaborated with First Person Arts, an arts organization based in Philadelphia, who collected personal histories and recollections from miners and their children who grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania.

First Person Arts connected the composer with Laurie McCants, a member of the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble and the author of the play “Hard Coal, Life In the Region.” Digging deeper into McCants’ primary research for the play, Wolfe uncovered a complex society where workers fought bitter political battles while working the dark mines and mothers did what they could to bring some color to their soot-covered homes. She wanted her music to convey the deep cultural expressions associated with the struggles and joys of ordinary miners.

Anthracite Fields is among some of our most groundbreaking projects in the 140-year history of this chorus,” said Mendelssohn Club Artistic Director Alan Harler. “It certainly matches such landmark productions as David Lang’s battle hymns and Urban Echo: Circle Told, our work with composer Pauline Oliveros from several years ago.“

Harler added, “Not only will we be working with Julia Wolfe, but also with Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of the foremost musical ensembles in contemporary music. We are especially excited to use this folk-infused choral cantata as a new classical hybrid. With a work as original, complex and dramatic as Anthracite Fields, Mendelssohn Club is continuing to expand choral music as an art form.”

The world premiere of Anthracite Fields is the culmination of a major two-year project including a Wolfe commission, ancillary events, audience engagement, and performances. Other research partners include First Person Arts, LiveConnections, World Café Live and the Anthracite Heritage Museum.  The Bang on a Can All-Stars will perform the New York premiere of Anthracite Fields on May 30 and 31 at the New York Philharmonic Biennial Festival.

Anthracite Fields, named after the technical term for a clean burning type of mineral coal, was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is 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; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia and the Aaron Copeland Fund for Music.

A video of Mendelssohn Club chorus members visiting the mines at the Anthracite Heritage Museum near Scranton, PA.

Concert Details

Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe
with Bang on a Can All-Stars
April 26, 2014 | 4 pm & 7:30 pm
April 27, 2014 | 4 pm & 7:30 pm
Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral
13-19 South 38th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Tickets $28 online | $30 at the door

Visit to follow the development of this new Julia Wolfe work in the final weeks leading up to its world premiere on  April 26 & 27, 2014.

Julia Wolfe, composer

 Drawing inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, Julia Wolfe’s music brings a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them. Her music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, Wolfe has “long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock.”

Wolfe has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, architects DillerScofidio+Renfro, filmmaker Bill Morrison, Ridge Theater, director Francois Girard, Jim Findlay, and choreographer Susan Marshall among others. Her music has been heard at BAM, the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Settembre Musica (Italy), Theatre de la Ville (Paris), Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and has been recorded on Cantaloupe, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo/Decca. In 2009, Wolfe joined the NYU Steinhardt School composition faculty. She is co-founder of New York’s music collective Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Wolfe was nominated for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Steel Hammer, an innovative composition that, with voices and old-time instruments, turns the old folk tune John Henry into an epic distillation of Appalachia.  Julia Wolfe’s busy season also includes the release of Steel Hammer, a musical exploration of the myriad of legends surrounding the figure of John Henry. On April 29, Cantaloupe Music will release a recording of Steel Hammer by the Norwegian vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval and the ever-versatile Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her quartets, as described by The New Yorker magazine “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 of a love rivalry between sisters, was commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and received its US premiere at the Spoleto Festival, and was recently released (along with her other string orchestra piece, Fuel) on Cantaloupe Records. Written shortly after September 11, 2001, her string quartet concerto My Beautiful Scream, written for Kronos Quartet and the Orchestre National de France (premiered in the US at the Cabrillo Festival under the direction of Marin Alsop), was inspired by the idea of a slow motion scream. The Vermeer Room, Girlfriend, and Window of Vulnerability exemplify Wolfe’s ability to create vivid sonic images. Girlfriend, for mixed chamber ensemble and recorded sound, uses a haunting audio landscape that consists of skidding cars and breaking glass. The Vermeer Room, inspired by the Vermeer painting “A Girl Asleep” — which when x-rayed reveals a hidden figure — received its orchestral premiere with the San Francisco Symphony. With Window of Vulnerability, written for the American Composers Orchestra and conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, Wolfe created a massive sonic universe of dense textures and fragile windows.

Wolfe has also extended her talents to theatre by composing for Anna Deveare Smith’s House Arrest, and won an Obie award for her score to Ridge Theater’s Jennie Richie. She has compiled a series of collaborative multimedia works with composers Michael Gordon and David Lang, including Lost Objects (Concerto Koln, directed by Francois Girard), Shelter (Musikfabrik and Ridge Theater), and The Carbon Copy Building (with comic-book artist Ben Katchor). Wolfe recently created the city-wide spectacle Traveling Music with architects Diller Scofidio+Renfro in Bordeaux, France, filling the streets of the old city with 100 musicians walking and riding in pedi-cabs. Her work with film includes Fuel for the Hamburg-based Ensemble Resonanz and filmmaker Bill Morrison, and Impatience and Combat de Boxe for the Asko-Schoenberg Ensemble and 1920s film experimentalist Charles De Keukeleire.

Bang on a Can All-Stars

Formed in 1992, the Bang on a Can All-Stars are recognized worldwide for their ultra-dynamic live performances and recordings of today’s most innovative music. Freely crossing the boundaries between classical, jazz, rock, world and experimental music, this six-member amplified ensemble has consistently forged a distinct category-defying identity, taking music into uncharted territories. Performing each year throughout the U.S. and internationally, the All-Stars have shattered the definition of what concert music is today.

Together, the All-Stars have worked in unprecedented close collaboration with some of the most important and inspiring musicians of our time, including Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman, Burmese circle drum master Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Tan Dun, DJ Spooky, and many more. The group’s celebrated projects include their landmark recordings of Brian Eno’s ambient classic Music for Airports and Terry Riley’s In C, as well as live performances with Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Don Byron, Iva Bittova, Thurston Moore, Owen Pallett and others. The All-Stars were awarded Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year in 2005 and have been heralded as “the country’s most important vehicle for contemporary music” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Recent project highlights include Field Recordings, a major new multi media project featuring hot-off-the-press commissioned works by Tyondai Braxton, Mira Calix, Anna Clyne, Dan Deacon, Bryce Dessner, Florent Ghys, Michael Gordon, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Christian Marclay, Paula Matthusen, Steve Reich, Todd Reynolds, Julia Wolfe, and Nick Zammuto; the world premiere, performances, and recording of Steve Reich’s 2×5 including a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall; the group’s multiple visits to China for the Beijing Music Festival and Hong Kong Arts Festival; the US tour and Carnegie Hall performance of Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer, an evening-length staged concert with Trio Mediaeval; commissioned works by Louis Andriessen, Bill Frisell, Ryuichi Sakamoto and more. With a massive repertoire of works written specifically for the group’s distinctive instrumentation and style of performance, the All-Stars have become a genre in their own right. The All-Stars record on Cantaloupe Music and have released past recordings on Sony, Universal and Nonesuch.

 Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia

For the past 140 years, Mendelssohn Club Chorus has been devoted to sharing great choral music as a way to connect artists, audiences and communities.  Mendelssohn Club, one of America’s oldest choruses, continues to expand its repertoire in the 21st century by collaborating with a wide range of musical organizations, each of which is devoted to representing or reaching out to new audiences in innovative ways. Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia performs choral music to create a shared transcendent experience among its singers and audiences. Through the excellence of its adventurous performances, Mendelssohn Club advances the development of choral music as an art form.

Earlier this year, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia received the prestigious Chorus America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, which recognizes choruses that demonstrate a commitment to fostering and promoting new music.

“With a passionate commitment to artistic excellence, repertoire diversity, audience engagement, and commissioning new works, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, under the direction of Maestro Alan Harler, continues to be a dynamic, vibrant, and relevant choral ensemble in the greater Philadelphia community.”

Rollo Dillworth, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Chorus America
COMING UP!  Mendelssohn Club’s final concert of the 2013-14 Season
Beethoven Symphony No. 9
with the Philadelphia Sinfonia
June 8, 2014 | 4 pm
Verizon Hall
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Tickets available through the Kimmel Center box office,

Don’t miss a wonderful opportunity to hear all 140 voices of the magnificent Mendelssohn Club Chorus along with some of Philadelphia’s most talented young musicians. Mendelssohn Club joins the Philadelphia Sinfonia in Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony with Maestro Gary White conducting.

For information about Mendelssohn Club’s concerts and programs, or to order tickets for the 2013-2014 season, visit

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