Haunting, poignant and relentlessly physical, Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields is a lovingly detailed oratorio about turn-of-the-20th-century Pennsylvania coal miners, and a fitting recipient of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Weaving together personal interviews that she conducted with miners and their families, along with oral histories, speeches, rhymes and local mining lore, Wolfe sought to honor the working lives of Pennsylvania's anthracite region. "It's not necessarily mainstream history," she told NPR shortly after she received word of winning the Pulitzer. "The politics are very fascinating the issues about safety, and the consideration for the people who are working and what's involved in it. But I didn't want to say, 'Listen to this. This is a big political issue.' It really was, 'Here's what happened. Here's this life, and who are we in relationship to that? We're them. They're us.' And basically, these people, working underground, under very dangerous conditions, fueled the nation. That's very important to understand."
Featuring the always adventurous Bang on a Can All-Stars and the renowned Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Anthracite Fields merges diverse musical styles with classical themes from the deep, ambient sweep of the opening movement Foundation (with the All-Stars Mark Stewart wrenching waves of keening sound from his electric guitar) to the high-energy rock mood of Breaker Boys.