Bang on a Can All-Stars, which performed Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer at the Center for the Performing Arts in 2009, returns for a concert featuring Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Anthracite Fields. The six-member Bang on a Can ensemble, started in 1992, is recognized internationally for its dynamic live performances and recordings of some of today’s most innovative music. The amplified group crosses genres freely among classical, jazz, rock, world, and experimental music.
Wolfe, who grew up in the southeastern Pennsylvania town of Montgomeryville, composes music distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from audiences. Co-founder and co-artistic director of Bang on a Can, Wolfe also is a professor of music composition at New York University. She is the recipient of a 2016 MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowship.
Penn State Concert Choir joins Bang on a Can for the concert. The choir has toured throughout the United States and in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, and Australia. The choir also has performed at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and with The Rolling Stones at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. Christopher Kiver, director of choral activities for the Penn State School of Music, conducts Concert Choir and Glee Club. He also oversees the graduate choral conducting program and teaches courses in choral conducting and choral literature. The Bang on a Can musicians will be in residence at Penn State for three days, while Wolfe will be at the University for two days.
Anthracite Fields commemorates the history of the northeastern Pennsylvania coal region, powerfully evoking through music, text, and images coal-mining life at the turn of the twentieth century. Anthracite Fields weaves a tapestry of an American life, creating a unique art-folk ballad. Anthracite Fields, with music and text by Wolfe, includes both the dark echoes of the underground caves and the moments of light in the lives of the miners who persevered. The oratorio won the Pulitzer for composition in 2015, and the recording of the work was nominated for a Grammy Award. Anthracite Fields is a companion to the acclaimed Steel Hammer, in which Wolfe brought together her love of music and the lore of Appalachia. Based on more than 200 versions of the John Henry ballad, Steel Hammer explores the subject of human versus machine.
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,” writes a Los Angeles Times reviewer. “The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work.”
Performers will also participate in a post-performance discussion with audience members.