Drawing inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, Julia Wolfe's music brings a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.
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."
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 and received its US premiere at the Spoleto Festival, and was recently 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 under the direction of Marin Alsop), was inspired by the idea of a slow motion scream. The Vermeer Room, Girlfriend, and Window of Vulnerability exemplify 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. 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.
Recent projects include riSE and fLY, a body concerto written for Colin Currie and the BBC orchestra, and Anthracite Fields, an evening length work based on life in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region, for the Mendelssohn Club Choir of Philadelphia with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which receives its world premiere in April 2014 in Philadelphia and its New York premiere in May 2014 with the Trinity Choir as a part of the New York Philharmonic's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. A staged version of Wolfe's Steel Hammer directed by the legendary Anne Bogart with her SITI Company, Trio Mediaeval, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars will premiere on the 2015 Next Wave festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.