New York’s iconoclastic contemporary music ensemble returns with an acclaimed oratorio by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe, a fascinating work that mines the sounds and stories of Appalachia. With Steel Hammer, Wolfe creates a musical amalgamation of every version of the folk ballad “John Henry” that she could get her hands on—more than 200—and weaves these often contradictory tales into an expansive allegory about the human cost of industrialization. The music marries folk cadences with driving rhythms in Wolfe’s densely layered compositional style, and is performed by three female vocalists and a chamber ensemble that features hammered  dulcimer, mouth harp, bones, clogs, banjo, and metal percussion.

This performance is part of Cal Performances’ 202021 Illuminations: Fact or Fiction series.

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PHOTO 1
Pictured: Bang on a Can All-Stars perform Steel Hammer by Julia Wolfe Saturday, January 23, 2021 in Zellerbach Hall.
(credit: Lisa Bauso)
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Pictured: Bang on a Can All-Stars perform Steel Hammer by Julia Wolfe Saturday, January 23, 2021 in Zellerbach Hall.
(credit: Courtesy of Bang on a Can All-Stars)