Provocative and intense, Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music founder, Julia Wolfe's music combines minimalist techniques, repetitive rhythms, sustained harmonies with a rock sensibility. Her music has been described as "invariably fresh and surprising" by the New York Times, and she was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her 2009 composition Steel Hammer.
Cruel Sister, composed in 2004, is a 35-minute long piece for string orchestra. It was originally written for the Munich Chamber Orchestra and premiered in New York in February at the Miller Theater to positive reviews. Wolfe elaborates on Cruel Sister: "[It] takes its title from a stirring and fantastic old English ballad of the same name. I first heard a beautiful and eerie rendition of the song while in college, on an album by the British folk/rock group Pentangle. While there are no musical references to the original tune, the story of the ballad inspired a response. I was fascinated and horrified by the overwhelming greed and jealousy of the tale." The New York Times said of the Miller Theater performance of the work, "The harp music at the wedding is suggested at first by the violas playing staggered staccato notes. Soon the entire ensemble breaks into aggressive pizzicatos: a horrific din of plucking, the 'harp gone mad,' as Ms. Wolfe put it. The piece ends with just a hint of a sad song, as if coming from some far-off place."
Fuel, on the other hand, is a collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison which examines the impact of globalization. Commissioned by Ensemble Resonanz, a Hamburg-based group of 18 musicians, Fuel was premiered in 2007 as a multi-media performance. The ideas for the piece came about through conversations related to the necessity and controversy of fuel. The members of the group challenged Wolfe to write something rip roaring and virtuosic, asking her to push the group to the limit. This request merged with the sounds of transport and harbors - New York and Hamburg - large ships, creaking docks, whistling sounds and a relentless energy.
Read the New York Times review of the February 3, 2011 performance of Cruel Sister and Fuel as part of the Composer Portrait series at the Miller Theater at Columbia University.
Also check out the New York Times article, written by music critic, Allan Kozinn, profiling Julia Wolfe.