Julia Wolfe (born December 18, 1958) is an American composer and a graduate of the University of Michigan. Her music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, Wolfe has "long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock."
For her most recent composition, Anthracite Fields, which was premiered in Philadelphia and performed at the New York Philharmonic Biennial in the spring of 2014, she drew on oral histories, interviews, geography, local rhymes, and coal advertisements to create an oratorio about the coal mining community of her native Pennsylvania. Following her folk interests and the tradition of body percussion in American folk music also led her to compose riSE and fLY, a concerto for body percussionist Colin Currie. The piece premiered in 2012 with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, and will be premiered in the Netherlands with the Codarts Ensemble and the United States with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in the 2014-15 season.
Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her quartets, as described by the New Yorker magazine "combine the violent forward drive of rock music with an aura of minimalist serenity [using] the four instruments as a big guitar, whipping psychedelic states of mind into frenzied and ecstatic climaxes." Wolfe's Cruel Sister for string orchestra, inspired by a traditional English ballad of a love rivalry between sisters, was commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra, received its US premiere at the Spoleto Festival USA, and was released (along with her other string orchestra piece, Fuel) on Cantaloupe Music. Written shortly after September 11, 2001, her string quartet concerto My Beautiful Scream, written for Kronos Quartet and the Orchestre National de France (premiered in the US at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music under the direction of Marin Alsop), was inspired by the idea of a slow motion scream. The Vermeer Room, Girlfriend, and Window of Vulnerability show Wolfe's ability to create vivid sonic images. Girlfriend, for mixed chamber ensemble and recorded sound, uses a haunting audio landscape that consists of skidding cars and breaking glass. The Vermeer Room, inspired by the Vermeer painting "A Girl Asleep"—which when x-rayed reveals a hidden figure—received its orchestral premiere with the San Francisco Symphony. In Window of Vulnerability, written for the American Composers Orchestra and conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, Wolfe creates a massive sonic universe of dense textures and fragile windows.
The influence of pop culture can be heard in many of Wolfe's works, including Lick and Believing for the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Lick, based on fragments of funk, has become a manifesto for the new generation of pop-influenced composers. The raucous My Lips From Speaking for six pianos was inspired by the opening riff of the Aretha Franklin tune "Think". Wolfe's Dark Full Ride is an obsessive and relentless exploration of the drum set, beginning with an extended hi-hat spotlight, while Lad is a piece for nine bagpipes.
Wolfe has also extended her talents to theatre by composing for Anna Deavere Smith's House Arrest, and won an Obie Award for her score to Ridge Theater's Jennie Richie. She has compiled a series of collaborative multimedia works with composers Michael Gordon and David Lang, including Lost Objects (Concerto Köln, directed by François Girard), Shelter (musikFabrik and Ridge Theater), and The Carbon Copy Building (with comic-book artist Ben Katchor). Wolfe recently created the city-wide spectacle Traveling Music with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro in Bordeaux, France, filling the streets of the old city with 100 musicians walking and riding in pedi-cabs. Her work with film includes Fuel for the Hamburg-based Ensemble Resonanz and filmmaker Bill Morrison, and Impatience and Combat de Boxe for the Asko/Schönberg Ensemble and 1920s film experimentalist Charles Dekeukeleire.
Wolfe has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, filmmaker Bill Morrison, Ridge Theater, director François Girard, Jim Findlay, and choreographer Susan Marshall, among others. Her music has been heard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Settembre Musica (Italy), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall, and has been recorded on Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical Records, and Argo/Decca.
She is co-founder of New York's music collective Bang on a Can. Her music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer Inc. Currently she is Director of Music Composition at New York University in the Steinhardt School.
Fuel (2007) - 21 minutes String orchestra (min 65431)
Cruel Sister (2004) - 35 minutes Orchestration str (min 65431)
Tell me everything (1994) - 8 minutes Orchestration 111.asx.1/1110/2perc/hp.pf/str (111.asx.1/1110/2perc/hp.pf/amp 2vn, amp va, amp vc, amp db)
Window of Vulnerability (1991) - 9 minutes Orchestration 3(2pic).3.3(bcl).2+cbn/4.3.3(btbn).1/timp.4perc/hp.syn.pf/str
The Vermeer Room (1989) - 11 minutes Orchestration 1(afl).11(bcl).1/11.btbn.0/2perc/pf/hp/str (fl(afl), ob, cl(bcl), bn, hn, tpt, btbn, 2perc, pf, hp, 2vn, va, vc, db)
Amber Waves of Grain (1988) - 8 minutes Orchestration 2(pic).222/432+btbn.1/4perc/hp/str
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
riSE and fLY (2012) - 25 minutes - Street percussion/body percussion & orchestra
Steel Hammer (2009) - 75 minutes 3 Singers Appalachian & traditional instruments Orchestration Cello, Contrabass, 1 perc, 1 pno, el guit-bjo-dulc, ca/bcl
My Beautiful Scream (2003) - 25 minutes Soloist(s) amplified string quartet Orchestration 3(pic).2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4.3.2+btbn.1/4perc/amp pf.hp.ebgtr/str
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Anthracite Fields (2014) - 45 minutes SATB chorus, cl, egtr, perc, pno, vc, db
You breathe (2013) - 5 minutes SATB + string quartet
Combat de Boxe (2011) - 8 minutes Orchestra
Guard My Tongue (2009) - 8 minutes SATB
Traveling Music (2009) 100+ musicians of any type
Thirst (2008) - 27 minutes SATB
Stronghold (2008) - 25 minutes Orchestration 8 Double Basses
Lad (2007) - 14 minutes Nine bagpipes
Impatience (2005) - 37 minutes 1(pic)111/1111/2perc/hp.pf.egtr/11111
Steam (1995) - 7 minutes Orchestration fl, vc, eorg, Harry Partch instruments
Arsenal of Democracy (1993) - 9 minutes Orchestration 1(pic).00.ssx+asx+barsx.0/132+btbn.0/bgtr/pf
Girlfriend (1988) - 18 minutes Orchestration all instruments amplified: fl(afl,pic), cl(bcl), full-size MIDI kbd with Electric Organ sound, perc, twelve cheap wine glasses (to be stomped on, 2 per player), vn, vc, audio tape with click track
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Accordion Concerto (True Love) (2005) - 20 minutes Soloist(s) Accordion Orchestration 1.1.1(bcl).1/220.127.116.11/perc/hp.pf/str (18.104.22.168.1)
Works for 2-6 Players
Reeling (2012) - 5 minutes cl, egtr, perc, pno, vc, db
With a blue dress on (2010, rev. 2014) - 10 minutes 5 violins/voice
singing in the dead of night (2008) - 18 minutes fl.cl/perc/pno/vn.vc
Big Beautiful Dark and Scary (2002) - 9 minutes Orchestration amplified sextet: clar/b clar, perc, pf, egtr, vc, db
Dark Full Ride (2002) - 18 minutes Orchestration four drum sets
Keeper (2000) - 11 minutes 6 male voices, tp Close Together (2000) - 18 minutes Orchestration cello, percussion, electronic tape
Believing (1997) - 9 minutes Orchestration amplified sextet
Believing (expanded version) (1997) - 20 minutes Orchestration amplified sextet
Mink Stole (1997) - 10 minutes Orchestration vn, pf
Dig Deep (1995) - 14 minutes Orchestration string quartet
Lick (1994) - 8 minutes Orchestration all instruments amplified: ssx, perc, pf, egtr, vc, db
my lips from speaking (1993) - 13 minutes Orchestration 6 pianos
Early That Summer (1993) - 12 minutes Orchestration str4t
Four Marys (1991) - 12 minutes Orchestration str4t
On Seven-Star-Shoes (1985) - 6 minutes Orchestration fl(pic), ob, cl(bcl), bn, hn
Iron Maiden (2011) - 12 minutes Percussion
Compassion (2001) - 7 minutes Piano
Earring (2001) - 2 minutes Piano
East Broadway (1996) - 3 minutes Toy piano, toy boombox
new work for Luna Cholong Kan - 8 minutes Flute
Shelter (2005) - 65 minutes. Music by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. Text by Deborah Artman. 3 Sop, fl, ob, cl, bn, hn, tpt, tbn, tba, pno, e gtr, e bgtr, perc, 2 vln, vla, vc, cb [all instruments and voices amplified]
Lost Objects (2001) - 62 minutes. Music by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. Text by Deborah Artman. Sop, 2 countertenors, small chor, DJ, baroque orch, e gtr, e bgtr, perc, synth [all instruments and voices amplified]
The Carbon Copy Building (1999) - 72 minutes. Music by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. Text by Ben Katchor. Cast: Ms, T, Bar, Bar/Ct cl(bcl, cbcl, ssx)/perc/syn/egtr [all instruments and voices amplified]
Music for Airports (1998) - 48 minutes cl, egtr, perc, pno, vc, db
- New York Composers: Searching for a New Music (1997). Directed by Michael Blackwood. Produced by Michael Blackwood Productions, in association with Westdeutscher Rundfunk. New York, New York: Michael Blackwood Productions.
Democracy (1999) - 15 minutes Orchestration electronic tape
- Steel Hammer by Julia Wolfe with Trio Mediæval and the Bang on a Can All-Stars (2014)
- Cruel Sister by Julia Wolfe with Ensemble Resonanz (2011)
- Dark Full Ride by Julia Wolfe (2009)
- Julia Wolfe: The String Quartets including artists Ethel, Cassatt Quartet, and Lark Quartet (2003)
- Arsenal of Democracy by Julia Wolfe (2003)
- Lost Objects with artists Michael Gordon, David Lang, Roger Epple, Andrew Watts, Daniel Taylor, and Concerto Köln (2001)
- Bang on a Can Live, Vol. 1 with artists David Mott, Robert Black, Anna Cholakian, Karl Parens, and Andrew Sterman (1994)
- Swed, Mark (5 June 2014). "NY Phil Biennial laudable, yet in need of curatorial vision". LA Times. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Clements, Andrew (12 October 2012). "BBCCO/Lockhart – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Platt, Russell (3 March 2003). "String Theory". The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
- "Julia Wolfe: String Quartets". Classics Today. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Kozinn, Allan (24 April 2007). "Music of the Spheres and the Pain of Earthly Matters". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Holland, Bernard (11 March 1992). "Review/Music; A Common Language Of Layered Loudness". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Beggs, Jo (19 March 2013). "Richard Alston Dance Company – The Lowry, Salford". The Public Reviews. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Strohm, Adam (12 November 2009). "Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples". Dusted Reviews. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Kozinn, Allan (2 December 2004). "MUSIC THEATER REVIEW; Socks to Souls: Finding Meaning in What Goes Missing". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Meyer, Robinson (20 March 2013). "Album Preview: Gordon/Lang/Wolfe's 'Shelter'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- "Gordon, Lang, Wolfe, Katchor: The Carbon Copy Building". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- "Traveling Music". Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Kozinn, Allan (1 February 2011). "Post-Minimalism and Folk Ballads Fuel a Composer". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Ziporyn, Evan. "Julia Wolfe". United Phoenix Records. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Julia Wolfe: Home, the composer's personal website
- Bomb Magazine: Julia Wolfe interview by David Krasnow
- Schirmer.com: Julia Wolfe
- NYU Faculty Bio webpage