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Bang on a Can Announces Julia Wolfe's STEEL HAMMER

Presented as part of the Cal Performances at Home Performing Arts Streaming Series.

Bang on a Can Announces Julia Wolfe's STEEL HAMMER

Bang on a Can announces the Cal Performances at Home video premiere of a new film, Steel Hammer, featuring the acclaimed oratorio by Bang on a Can's co-founder, Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe.

Cal Performances has worked closely with filmmaker Jeremy Robins and Wolfe to create this new film which will premiere virtually on Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7pm PDT. It will be available for ticket holders to stream on demand through August 4, 2021.

Wolfe's Steel Hammer is a meditation on over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad. The various versions, based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales, reveal both the evolution of the story, as well as the timeless tale of human versus machine. Wolfe draws upon the extreme variations of the story, fragmenting and weaving the contradictory versions of the ballad that have circulated since the late 1800s, into a new whole in order to tell the story of the story and to embody the simultaneous diverse paths it traveled. The Bang on a Can All-Stars add a slew of instruments to their usual line up - mountain dulcimer, wooden bones, banjo, harmonicas, and body percussion, as well as a dynamic trio of three female voices, to tell the tale.

The Steel Hammer film soundtrack features the Bang on a Can All-Stars: Robert Black, bass; David Cossin, percussion; Vicky Chow, piano and melodica; Arlen Hlusko, cello; Mark Stewart, electric guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, harmonica; and Ken Thomson, clarinets and harmonica, and a new vocal trio: Rebecca Hargrove, Sonya Headlam, Molly Netter. It was produced by David Cossin, with David Bloom as music director.

This film iteration of Steel Hammer continues an evolutionary journey of the work since its inception. Originally commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the work premiered on tour in the US in the fall of 2009 featuring Bang on a Can All-Stars and Norway's renowned Trio Mediaeval. It was a runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and was recorded and released on Cantaloupe Music in 2015. In 2015, Wolfe teamed up with acclaimed American director Anne Bogart for a dramatized stage production incorporating Wolfe's complete musical work Steel Hammer and text from four remarkable American Playwrights - Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor. Directed by Anne Bogart, the fully staged production featured the Bang on a Can All-Stars alongside the celebrated actors of Siti Company and was developed and premiered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was commissioned by the Krannert Center and by BAM for the 2015 Next Wave Festival. In the 2021 film version, singers Rebecca Hargrove, Sonya Headlam, and Molly Netter now add their superb musicianship and a distinctly American vocal sound - the newest chapter in the Steel Hammer story.

A work that explores the historical truths-and contradictory truths-of the industrial age, Steel Hammer is presented in 2021 as part of Cal Performances' Illuminations: Fact or Fiction series, which investigates the ways artists and scholars balance the art of storytelling with questions of historical accuracy, exploring the tension between "creative license" and what happens when alterations of fact impact our ability to tell the difference between what is true and what is false.

About Julia Wolfe: Julia Wolfe's music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women's chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People's Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim - one reviewer called the work "a monumental achievement in high musical drama, among the most commandingly imaginative and emotively potent works of any kind that I've ever experienced." (The Nation Magazine) The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker: 2009's Steel Hammer examines the folk-hero John Henry, and the 2015 Pulitzer prize-winning work, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length oratorio for chorus and instruments, draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Mark Swed of the LA Times wrote, 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. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work."

Upcoming and recent work includes Flower Power, a concerto for the Bang on a Can All-Stars co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Danish National Symphony, Oxygen for 12 flutes, commissioned by the National Flute Association, and premiered by twelve flute choirs (144 flutes); and a new large-scale work, Her Story, for orchestra with the women's chamber choir Lorelei, which will receive multiple performances in the 2022-23 season with a consortium of five orchestras including the Nashville Symphony, Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and National Symphony Orchestra.

Wolfe has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deavere Smith, projection/scenic designer Jeff Sugg, filmmaker Bill Morrison, visual artist Laurie Olinder, and directors François Girard, Anne Bogart, and Anne Kauffman, among others. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, Muziekgebouw (Netherlands), Southbank and Barbican Centres (UK), Settembre Musica (Italy), and Theatre de la Ville (France.) Wolfe's music has been recorded on Decca Gold, Naxos, Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Sony Classical, and Universal.

In addition to receiving the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. She received the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music, and was named Musical America's 2019 Composer of the Year. Julia Wolfe is co-founder/co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can, and she is Artistic Director of NYU Steinhardt Music Composition. Her music is published by Ricordi New York (ASCAP).

About the Bang on a Can All-Stars: Formed in 1992, the Bang on a Can All-Stars are recognized worldwide for their ultra-dynamic live performances and recordings of today's most innovative music. Freely crossing the boundaries between classical, jazz, rock, world and experimental music, this six-member amplified ensemble has consistently forged a distinct category-defying identity, taking music into uncharted territories. Performing each year throughout the U.S. and internationally, the All-Stars have shattered the definition of what concert music is today.

Together, the All-Stars have worked in unprecedented close collaboration with some of the most important and inspiring musicians of our time, including Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman, Burmese circle drum master Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Tan Dun, DJ Spooky, and many more. The group's celebrated projects include their landmark recordings of Brian Eno's ambient classic Music for Airports and Terry Riley's In C, as well as live performances with Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Don Byron, Iva Bittova, Thurston Moore, Owen Pallett and others. The All-Stars were awarded Musical America's Ensemble of the Year and have been heralded as "the country's most important vehicle for contemporary music" by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Current and recent project highlights include a new recording of legendary composer/performer Meredith Monk's MEMORY GAME; Road Trip, an immersive and visually stunning concert collaboratively-composed by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe to commemorate the 30+ year journey of Bang on a Can; the touring performances and recording of Julia Wolfe's Pulitzer Prize winning Anthracite Fields for the All-Stars and guest choir and the touring performances of Wolfe's new sonic exploration Flower Power for the All-Stars and orchestra, premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Field Recordings, a major multimedia project and CD/DVD featuring over 30 commissioned works by Tyondai Braxton, Mira Calix, Jace Clayton, Anna Clyne, Bryce Dessner, Michael Gordon, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Christian Marclay, Todd Reynolds, Caroline Shaw, Julia Wolfe, and more; the Lincoln Center Festival 2017 world premiere of Cloud River Mountain, a new collaboration featuring Chinese superstar singer Gong Linna; the world premiere performance and recording of Steve Reich's 2×5 including a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall, and much more. With a massive repertoire of works written specifically for the group's distinctive instrumentation and style of performance, the All-Stars have become a genre in their own right. The All-Stars record on Cantaloupe Music and have released past recordings on Sony, Universal and Nonesuch.

Explore videos, photos, programs, posters, and other memorabilia on Bang on a Can's archive, CanLand:

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