A MacArthur for the composer Julia Wolfe ’86MM

Julia Wolfe | Photo by Peter Serling

Julia Wolfe | Photo by Peter Serling

The New Yorker | By William Robin

“I know the music I write isn’t for everyone,” a talking wolf remarks in a 2014 episode of the beloved PBS cartoon “Arthur.” The wolf holds up a page of sheet music, points to her head, and explains to another character what it means to be a composer: “Everything that goes on up here winds up in the score.” The show’s cohort of animated creatures has just emerged from a raucous performance: a rendition of the amplified chamber work Big Beautiful Dark and Scary written by the real-life composer Julia Wolfe, who voiced the cartoon character.

Such explanations may no longer be necessary, as today Wolfe was selected as a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. She is the first full-time classical composer to receive a MacArthur since Osvaldo Golijov, in 2003. At fifty-seven, Wolfe is known equally as a composer and as a co-founder of the new-music collective Bang on a Can. Though Wolfe and Bang on a Can often position themselves as outside the mainstream—“I think of myself as a renegade,” she told NPR, in 2015—both the MacArthur award and the “Arthur” appearance testify to the centrality that they occupy in the world of composition today. MORE

Published September 23, 2016
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[ students & alumni ]

Faculty, Alumni, and Students Receive NEA Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the recipients of their Art Works Grants for 2016, and several faculty, alumni, and student composers are among the awardees. The organization awarded $27 million for arts projects across the United States, and the first round of FY 2016 funding inaugurates the next 50 Years of National Endowment for the Arts Support.

The NEA defines “Art Works” as referring to three things: the works of art themselves, the ways art works on audiences, and the fact that art is work for the artists and arts professionals who make up the field. The NEA recognizes these catalytic effects of excellent art, and the key role that arts and design organizations play in revitalizing them. MORE

Published March 1, 2016
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[ in the press ]

NYT: Composers’ collectives offer creativity and challenges

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

The New York Times | By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

The cellist Ashley Bathgate took her bow at Le Poisson Rouge last Tuesday after the premiere of “Ash,” an evening-long work inspired by Bach’s six suites for solo cello. Then she squinted into the dimmed nightclub and made the usual hand motion of a performer beckoning the composer to share in the applause.

But Ms. Bathgate’s gesture did not just bring out a composer: It sparked a procession of dark-clothed men in their 30s who ascended the stage and lined up, smiling, behind her like a genial security detail. The men belonged to Sleeping Giant, the composers’ collective that produced “Ash” and comprises six members: Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein and Andrew Norman.

The men met as students at Yale University and dispersed to different corners of the country, each making an individual mark on the new-music scene. But for works like “Ash,” which Ms. Bathgate commissioned under the working title “Bach Unwound,” the composers come together, in gargantuan email chains and in Google Hangout sessions lasting hours, to collaborate on multi-movement pieces that seek to preserve their own voices within a common dramatic arc. MORE

Published January 17, 2016
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[ alumni ]

Alumni receive Grammy nominations


Darrell Ang

Several Yale School of Music alumni were among the musicians nominated for Grammy Awards. The nominations for the 2016 awards were announced Monday, December 7.

In the category of Best Orchestral Performance, conductor Darrell Ang ’08 MM was nominated for his recording of Zhou Long and Chen Yi’s Symphony Humen 1839. The recording, which featured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, was released on the Naxos label.

In the category of Best Choral Performance was Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings, recorded on Harmonia Mundi with Craig Hella Johnson ’90 MMA, ’95 DMA leading the ensemble Conspirare.

Brad Wells ’05 DMA and the vocal octet Roomful Of Teeth were nominated in the category of Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance for Render, released on New Amsterdam Records. There are numerous YSM alumni among the members of Roomful of Teeth. MORE

Published December 7, 2015
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[ alumni ]

Julia Wolfe ’86 MM wins Pulitzer Prize in Music

Julia Wolfe | Photo by Peter Serling


Julia Wolfe ’86 MM has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for her piece Anthracite Fields. The Pulitzer jury described the piece as “a powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the twentieth century.” The piece was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program.

The Mendelssohn Club and the Bang on a Can All-Stars premiered the work in Philadelphia 2014. The piece was later included in the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural NY Phil Biennial festival.

Wolfe, a co-founder of Bang on a Can, is the second composer from the group to win a Pulitzer. David Lang ’83 MMA, ’89 DMA, another co-founder, won in 2008 for The Little Match Girl Passion. Wolfe’s piece Steel Hammer was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. MORE

Published April 21, 2015
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[ in the press ]

Julia Wolfe bores a hole through the mountain with ‘Steel Hammer’

By Daniel Stephen Johnson

At its best, the music of Julia Wolfe is totally relentless, like a steam-powered drill boring a great hole right through the hard heart of a mountain. No wonder she seems so at home with the subject of her new album, “Steel Hammer,” a musical retelling of that great American man-against-machine tall tale, the story of John Henry. According to legend, he pitted his hammer against the inhuman speed of a steam engine. MORE

Published April 21, 2014
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