- Keynote Address of Julia Wolfe at the Music and the Moving Image Conference XIII
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I'd like to now tell you a little bit about our first keynote1 speaker. Julia Wolfe draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them. Her Pulitzer Prize–winning concert-length oratorio, Anthracite Fields, for chorus and instruments draws on aural histories, interviews, and speeches to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Other recent projects include the evening-length Steel Hammer for the Bang on a Can All-Stars2 and singers, and the body concerto Rise and Fly commissioned and premiered by the BBC that features rapid-fire body slaps and street percussion. In 2019, the New York Philharmonic will premiere Wolfe's Fire in My Mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women's chorus, continuing her interest in American labor history with the subject of women in New York's garment industry at the turn of the twentieth century. Wolfe's music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She has written a major body of work for strings from quartets to full orchestra. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world and has been recorded on the Cantaloupe Music, Teldec Point, Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo-Decca labels. Wolfe is the 2016 MacArthur Fellow and was a recipient of a 2015 Herb Albert Award in music. She is a most-valued colleague on our faculty and serves as director of our Music Composition department. She is also cofounder and coartistic director of New York's legendary music collective, Bang on a Can,3 which has probably had as much or more [influence] than any group in [End Page 3] changing classical music over the past thirty years. It's wonderful to welcome Julia Wolfe.
I wanted to start by saying I am honored to be here with all of you. I want to begin by thanking my colleague at NYU,4 Ron Sadoff, and Gillian Anderson, and everyone who is a part of Music and the Moving Image for inviting me. I love that the mission of the organization states that it is dedicated to the relationship between music and the entire universe of the moving image. (This really made me smile.) That's thinking very big, and I think that is partly what allows for me to be here today as one of your speakers. My background is in music and theater—but I live in the world of concert music. I am considered a concert composer. What does that mean? Well you know in the old days, at least in western classical music, of course it meant you wrote music down in some form of notation, for performers to play on acoustic instruments—initially in churches and palaces, eventually we got to concert halls. But today the definition of concert music has cracked wide open, and instrumentation includes amplification, electronics, found sounds, beats, and the vast array of visual elements. Film music was way ahead of the curve, so concert music is catching up. Many of my recent works were conceived in collaboration with visual artists, and sometimes with theatre artists as well. Maybe some of these names will be familiar to you—the director François Gerard5 (The Red Violin), experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison,6 projection artist Jeff Sugg,7 visual artist Laurie Olinder,8 actress/writer Anna Deavere Smith,9 and director Anne Bogart.10
So why expand out to include other arts? Music is an immensely powerful vehicle all by itself. Part of that interest for me comes from wanting to expand the concert experience—breaking the paradigm of concert formality. And there has certainly been a lot of formality in concert music. Still some pieces are best left alone—allowing the listener to develop their own internal visual imagination, or not. In my...