BBC Music Magazine
BACKSTAGE WITH… Composer Julia Wolfe
Your Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Anthracite Fields is receiving its UK premiere at Kings Place this month. What was the inspiration behind the work?
I wanted to explore the geography of my home state Pennsylvania, particularly the Anthracite coal-mining region. It became one of my biggest, most heavily researched projects. I explored the history of the mines and how the coal fuelled the nation, but also how the process brought up so many difficult social issues with such young boys working in the mines.
It’s quite a visual piece. How would you explain it to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
Visuals are crucial to this choral work. I won’t let it be performed without the visuals because they illuminate my writing. There are projections throughout, with the names of those involved appearing on the back wall. It’s very immersive. They will of course be accompanied by the ensemble I co-founded, the
Bang on a Can All-stars.
How closely do you work with the All-stars in your composition process?
We have had a really close collaboration since the ensemble began in the late 1980s, and two of the current members have been there since the beginning. I do my experimentations with this group, and then am able to transfer what works to other projects. I also write for string quartets and orchestras, and even odd things like a piece for nine bagpipes!