Notes & Reviews:
Inspired by her love of Appalachia, Julia Wolfe based her text for Steel Hammer on over 200 versions of the "John Henry" ballad. Steel Hammer features the alternately haunting and playful vocalizations of Norway's renowned Trio Mediaeval, and stretches the standard instrumentation of the Bang on a Can All-Stars with wooden bones, mountain dulcimer, banjo, clapping, clogging and more. - "...a musical archaeology of a familiar tale ? one that preserves, even enlarges, its central mystery." - Alex Ross
American Record Guide, July/August 2014
Julia Wolf's newly recorded Steel Hammer, the runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, is an exploration and expansion of Appalachian folk music. John Henry and the more than 200 versions of ballads about him are the subject of the 68-minute long work. The trio quickly repeats phrases, segments, and words; and the ballad slowly unfolds. Steel Hammer is an adventurous work that succeeds in its use of eclectic musical components.
Recording information: James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio at New York Unive (11/2011/02/2012).
This is high-energy, complex material, and as with many of Wolfe's compositions, the music demands your attention in an insistent and aggressive manner. But it's only when you give "Steel Hammer" your full attention that the music can convey its meaning.
Trio Mediaeval sing with pure, unwavering tones, providing an unemotional narrative to the work. Wolfe incorporates a number of folk instruments and sounds into her ensemble to provide color and context. Hearing the banjo, dulcimer, or the sound of clogging deep in the mix give the listener a hint of Appalachia without being overtly folk-like.
As always, the Bang on a Can All-Stars hold nothing back in their performances. This is difficult, demanding music, but these musicians don't just play the material -- they own it.
Submitted on 05/14/14 by RGraves321
Submitted on 05/19/14 by Dan Coombs
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Works DetailsWolfe, Julia : Steel Hammer, for 3 voices & chamber ensemble
- Ensemble: Bang on a Can All-Stars
- Running Time: 67 min. 9 sec.
- Period Time: Contemporary
- Written: 2009