Julia Wolfe onstage at Bucknell University before a performance of Anthracite Fields, her oratorio about coal mining. Photo: Mark Makela for The New York Times
Coal is never far from the surface in northeastern Pennsylvania — as a shared heritage, if not always as actual deposits. So anticipation was already running high last week when the composer Julia Wolfe brought Anthracite Fields, her Pulitzer Prize-winning choral work honoring the sacrifices of Pennsylvania coal miners, back to her native state.
Then, just before the concerts, coal became front-page news when President Trump moved to roll back pollution regulations in the name of trying to bring coal jobs back, promising miners and coal company executives assembled for a photo op that “you’re going back to work.” Ms. Wolfe’s 2014 oratorio on work, exploitation and unionization took on new overtones as coal became a central part of the Make America Great Again hymnal.
“It feels to me like kind of a romanticization of coal miners — and that doesn’t feel good,” Ms. Wolfe said of the president’s action before a performance of Anthracite Fields on Saturday at Bucknell University here in Lewisburg, a college town nestled between coal regions.