Cal Performances at Home to Present Video Premiere of Julia Wolfe’s ‘Steel Hammer’

By Logan Martell

On May 6, 2021, Cal Performances at Home will launch the video premiere of “Steel Hammer,” a new film that features the oratorio by Bang on a Can’s co-founder and Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Wolfe.

Wolfe’s “Steel Hammer” explores the over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad, weaving and fragmenting all the variations that have risen since the 1800s into a new whole which showcases the evolution of the story. The artists of Bang on a Can have added new instrumentation, including mountain dulcimer, wooden bones, banjo, harmonicas, body percussion, and a trio of female vocalists to tell the tale.

The artists include bassist Robert Black; percussionist David Cossin; pianist Vicky Chow; cellist Arlen Hlusko; electric guitarist Mark Stewart; clarinetist Ken Thomson; and vocalists Rebecca Hargrove, Sonya Headlam, and Molly Netter.

The work was originally commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered on tour in 2009. Named a runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, “Steel Hammer,” was recorded and released on Cantaloupe Music in 2015, and was later adapted into a stage production by Wolfe and director Anne Bogart.