Cal Performances presents Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields with the Bang On a Can All-Stars and Cappella SF this Sunday evening. It’s the Bay Area premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical exploration of some of the history of coal mining in the US. Cappella SF Artistic Director and founder Ragnar Bohlin describes the work as a gem of contemporary music.
There’s more information about the concert at the Cal Performances website.
The work was a commission by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and Julia Wolfe wrote it with the talented instrumentalists of the Bang on a Can All-Stars in mind. It’s scored for chorus, clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, piano, cello, and double bass. “It’s very dark in many ways,” Bohlin says, “but the music is spectacular. It’s minimalist, often repetitive phrases, but with a great sense of architecture so that the build ups are fantastic. And sometimes it breaks out into almost pure rock and roll, with electric guitar and percussion.” It points to the challenges and dangers of the industry. “It deals with Anthracite Fields, the coal mines in that particular region, and the conditions under which workers there worked, about a hundred years ago, the turn of the last century, which were terrible: child labor and poverty and accidents… The second movement is about child labor – the so-called ‘breaker boys,’ the ones whose role it was to clean the coal when it came up from the mines, to clean out debris and stuff that was not usable. And they were sometimes not even allowed to wear gloves.”