Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia performing Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. Photo by Derek Smythe.
Anthracite Fields, a hybrid choral work commissioned with Center support, has won a 2015 Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. The piece was developed over two years by composer Julia Wolfe, and premiered in Philadelphia in April 2014, in a performance with the Mendelssohn Club and New York-based Bang On a Can collective.
Wolfe combined research in Anglo-American folk music with stories, songs, and personal histories about coal mining in Pennsylvania. The result was a 45-minute-long folk-classical oratorio, receiving praise from The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others when it premiered. After receiving the Pulitzer, Anthracite Fields has been lauded in NPR, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times ArtsBeat blog, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. The composition will be released as a recording in September 2015.
The Pulitzer "shines a light on the work of an individual and where they are coming from," says composer Julia Wolfe, in an interview with NPR. She explains that Anthracite Fields is tied "to who we are today. Everything that you do—bake a cake, drill a hole—that uses energy...we are a part of the story."
Anthracite Fields "had its origins in curiosity about the road not taken," writes Michael Cooper for The New York Times ArtsBeat Blog. Wolfe turned toward a previously unexamined aspect of her childhood home—the nearby coal mining regions of Pennsylvania—she says, to "honor the people that worked in the mines."
David Patrick Stearns of The Philadelphia Inquirer calls Anthracite Fields' Pulitzer win an "award for one of the chorus' largest projects and a particularly ambitious effort by Wolfe...acclaimed by critics."
Los Angeles Times music critic and 2015 Pulitzer jury member Mark Swed calls the piece "an unforgettably haunting, harrowing evocation of the plight of Pennsylvania's coal miners."