On Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22, Westminster Choir College of Rider University will perform Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork “Anthracite Fields” with Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Roebling Wireworks in Trenton, site of the annual Art All Night Festival.
Originally commissioned by The Mendelssohn Club and premiered by Mendelssohn and Bang on a Can All Stars in April 2014 in Philadelphia, this is the first time Westminster Choir will perform the work. Westminster calls the work a “docu-oratorio” and it covers the mining industry that thrived in Pennsylvania in the early 20th century, as well as the often-harrowing plight of the miners that worked there. Although Trenton itself wasn’t a mining town, coal from those Pennsylvania mines played a vital role in Trenton’s industrial success, which you may think about every time you pass by the “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge.
“Anthracite Fields” weaves together personal interviews conducted by the composer, Julia Wolfe, with miners and their families, along with oral histories, speeches, rhymes and local mining lore. Wolfe is originally from Pennsylvania, making this simultaneously a personal, musical and historical work for her.
The piece is organized into five movements. The first movement is called “Foundation.” The text of that movement is a list of the names of miners who had been injured in the coal mines – “a really sadly long” list, Wolfe has called it. The next movement is called “The Breaker Boys” and it’s about the boys who worked in the mines. The third movement is “Speech” – the text is the speech of John L. Lewis, who was the longtime head of the United Mine Workers of America. The fourth movement is “Flowers,” and the fifth movement is called “Appliances,” which takes the audiences into contemporary times, tying the miners’ stories to us today.
Watch this documentary from the Mendelssohn Club about the making of “Anthracite Fields”:
The performance will be semi-staged by Doug Varone and utilizes video projections that depict the people who are the focus of the work and their lives. “Anthracite Fields” will be conducted by Joe Miller and will be performed by Westminster Choir and Bang on a Can All-Stars. The Bang on a Can All-Stars (a sub-group of the larger Bang on a Can) were formed in 1992 and are pretty famous for their ultra-dynamic live performances and recordings of innovative contemporary music, frequently using non-traditional “instruments,” which often crosses multiple genre boundaries. Wolfe is actually a former member of Bang on a Can.
This performance of “Anthracite Fields” is the first in Westminster Choir College’s Transforming Space project. Over the next two seasons, Westminster will explore how the arts can transform a space or a location that is not typically used for a performance or arts-related event.
The Transforming Spaces project consists of three performance projects. In the fall, there will be a performance of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes at the Trenton War Memorial Ballroom in collaboration with American Repertory Ballet. In spring 2018, Westminster will commission a new piece about the immigrants who transformed America, in collaboration with Juilliard School, at Liberty State Park Railroad Terminus.
This performance of “Anthracite Fields” includes additional components for the city of Trenton. One third of performance tickets will be offered free to Trenton residents and distributed through school children. These children will also participate in a workshop, school performance and Q&A with the choir. Westminster College of the Arts partners with the Trenton Public School system to ensure that every child in Trenton receives a quality arts education, thanks in part to the Kennedy Center’s “Any Given Child” initiative.
But there is also more than just the “Anthracite Fields” performances for the adults to enjoy, as well. On Thursday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library, Westminster will present a behind-the-scenes panel discussion about the work. Admission is free. Conductor Joe Miller, composer Julie Wolfe and director Doug Varone will share the story of the production, using musical examples and video. They will discuss the inspiration for the music, the choice of the Roebling Wire Works as the venue, logistics involved in staging the work and what audiences can expect at the performances.
Before the two performances on April 21 and 22, there will be a pre-performance talk from Wolfe, Miller and historian and preservationist Clifford Zink. They will talk about the work, the significance of the performance site and the Transforming Space project.
And finally, in conjunction with these performances, Westminster and ArtWorks, Trenton’s visual arts center, will present “Transformations,” an art exhibit that explores the beauty and dignity found in post-industrial locations, such as Trenton and Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal regions. The exhibit opens at 6:00 p.m. prior to each performance.
Westminster Choir presents “Anthracite Fields” on Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22 at 8:00 p.m. at Roebling Wire Works, located at 675 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors. Tickets are available by phone at 609.921.2263 or online. For more information, visit rider.edu/anthracite_fields.
But wait, there’s more…
In conjunction with these performances of Anthracite Fields, check out these related events:
- “Anthracite Fields” panel discussion on Thursday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library at 65 Witherspoon Street in Princeton. Admission is free.
- Pre-performance talk before the performances on April 21 and 22 at 7:15 p.m. Free with performance ticket.
- Art Exhibit: “Transformations.” Presented by Westminster and ArtWorks, Trenton’s visual arts center. The exhibit opens at 6:00 p.m. before each performance.