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.