Julia Wolfe Wins 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music

Julia Wolfe, an assistant professor of music at NYU Steinhardt, was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition “Anthracite Fields,” a 45-minute multi-media oratorio about the plight of Pennsylvania coal miners. The composition premiered on April 26, 2014 at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

A native of Philadelphia, Wolfe is the co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s music collective Bang on a Can, which delivered the premiere performance on “Anthracite Fields” together with the Mendelssohn Club Chorus. Wolfe’s piece Steel Hammer was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. She joined the Steinhardt faculty in 2009.

“Julia is one of the most compelling and original composers living today, and “Anthracite Fields” is a powerful example of her tremendous talent,” said Ron Sadoff, chair of NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions and director of the Film Scoring Program. “We’re thrilled to see her earn this extraordinary recognition, and we’re extremely fortunate to have her as part of the NYU Steinhardt community.”

Anthracite Fields,” named for a kind of coal that burns hotter and longer and was prized for residential and industrial purposes, examines the mining culture that dominated Pennsylvania during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The piece cites names of miners who were killed or injured in the mines and texts from a labor movement speech.

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 has also composed for Anna Deveare Smith’s House Arrest, and won an Obie award for her score to Ridge Theater’s Jennie Richie.

The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, and is administered by Columbia University. The prize for music recognizes “distinguished musical composition by an American that had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.” Prizes are given annually in 22 categories and include a cash award of $10,000. Other finalists in this year’s category were Lei Liang for “Xiaoxiang” and John Zorn for “The Aristos.”