Boston premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio combines rock, folk, and classical music to commemorate genesis of the American labor movement
Chorus pro Musica (CpM) joins forces with the ultra-dynamic amplified sextet Bang on a Can All-Stars for the Boston premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields. One performance will be given on Saturday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center.
Definitive of a “new American tradition” (New Yorker), Anthracite Fields garnered Wolfe the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music for its powerful evocation of the Pennsylvania coal-mining region at the turn of the 20th century and the genesis of the American labor movement. A recording of the work earned a Grammy nomination for best contemporary classical composition.
Cast in five movements, Anthracite Fields begins with “Foundation,” a chanted litany of names taken from mining accident reports interwoven with geological reports. “Breaker Boys” recalls the children who, at as young as 8 years old, broke and screened coal in unspeakably dangerous conditions, earning $150 a year. In “Speech,” Wolfe quotes a congressional testimony given by president of the United Mine Workers Union, John L. Lewis, following the Centralia, PA fire, a disaster which took 111 lives. “Flowers,” inspired by an interview with a daughter of the anthracite region, recalls the beauty of her close-knit community though it remained invisible to the rest of the nation. Finally, “Appliances,” reminds us of the coal still powering our lives— “Grind, shave, run, blow, heat, drill, blast, turn…” delivered percussively—concluding with words from a railway advertisement featuring Phoebe Snow, whose white traveling dress was kept unsullied thanks to clean, anthracitic power.
Wolfe’s composition is inspired by a range of musical styles, from psychedelic rock to children’s nursery rhymes and sonic experimentation, while Jeff Sugg’s cinema-sized projections pay homage to the Pennsylvania region through historic portraits and videos. Wolfe’s score calls for an eight-part chorus, supplied here by CpM’s 80-member ensemble, in addition to the All-Stars on clarinet, electric guitar, piano, cello, double bass, and a massive percussion battery including vibraphone and bicycle wheels.
Tickets range from $27–75, with special pricing for students, seniors, and groups. Tickets may be purchased online at www.berklee.edu/BPC, by calling 617-747-2261 or by visiting Berklee Performance Center (136 Massachusetts Avenue).