Mendelssohn Club Commission Anthracite Fields wins 2015 Pulitzer Prize


“Anthracite Fields” Awarded 2015 Pulitzer Prize In Music


Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Commissioned Composer Julia Wolfe’s Groundbreaking Oratorio and Presented Its 2014 World Premiere to Rave Reviews


(PHILADELPHIA) Composer Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields, an oratorio for chorus and sextet commissioned by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, has been awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Mendelssohn Club premiered the work on April 26, 2014 at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral along with the Bang on a Can All-Stars musical ensemble, which is based in New York City. The original four premiere performances combined more than 130 voices, along with music, movement, and lighting to transport audiences deep into the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania and into the hearts and souls of coal miners and their families. Composer Wolfe drew on oral histories, interviews, speeches, geographic descriptions, children’s rhymes, and coal advertisements to create an original work that conveys the deep cultural expressions associated with the struggles and joys of ordinary coal miners and offers an intimate look at a particular slice of American life.


Anthracite Fields was commissioned through New Music USA, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. Additional support was made possible through the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Alan Harler New Ventures Fund; The Presser Foundation; The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. Research partners included First Person Arts, LiveConnections, World Café Live and the Anthracite Heritage Museum. 


Since its first performance one year ago, Anthracite Fields has earned rave reviews. The New York Times wrote, “In Ms. Wolfe’s polished and stylistically assured cantata, the overall coherence of the musical material helped her expressions of outrage to burn cleanly and brightly.” The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the piece for creating “an alternate universe.” Anthracite Fields will be released on Cantaloupe Music in September on a recording that features the Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street with Julian Wachner conducting. The next performance of Anthracite Fields will be in March 2016 with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.


“I am personally thrilled that the Pulitzer Committee has honored Julia’s groundbreaking oratorio,” stated Mendelssohn Club Artistic Director Alan Harler. “Anthracite Fields was one of the most exciting and innovative projects in the 141-year history of this chorus. It certainly matched such landmark productions of ours as David Lang’s battle hymns and Urban Echo: Circle Told, our work with composer Pauline Oliveros from several years ago.” Harler added, “As I approach the end of my 27th season with Mendelssohn Club, and my last as Artistic Director, I am especially delighted that this commission has been awarded one of the very highest honors in American culture.”


Executive Director Amanda Schkeeper observed that, “Today’s announcement truly validates our mission as an organization dedicated to providing adventurous programming and further expanding choral music as an art form. With works as original, complex and dramatic as Anthracite Fields last season, and the upcoming world premiere of Byron Au Young’s TURBINE next month at the Fairmount Water Works, Mendelssohn Club has shown that there is incredible music to be written and performed both on and off the concert stage, and that choral music as art is constantly being redefined.“


Speaking about her oratorio, Julia Wolfe has said, "My aim with Anthracite Fields was to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation, and to reveal a bit about who we are as American workers. I wanted to honor the people who persevered and endured in a specific coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation and also to reveal a bit about who we all are as workers in America.” Wolfe, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, adds that “Anthracite Fields represents a return to my small town Pennsylvania roots.”


Named after the technical term for the purest form of coal, (anthracite), Anthracite Fields was written after Wolfe did extensive research about the coal mining industry in an area very near where she grew up in Pennsylvania. For this work, she collaborated with First Person Arts, an organization based in Philadelphia that collected personal histories and recollections from miners and their children who grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. First Person Arts connected the composer with Laurie McCants, a member of the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble and the author of the play “Hard Coal, Life In the Region.” Digging deeper into McCants’ primary research for the play, Wolfe uncovered a complex society where workers fought bitter political battles while working the dark mines, and mothers did what they could to bring some color to their soot-covered homes.  


See more about Mendelssohn Club’s commission and premiere of Anthracite Fields at


Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia


Since its founding in 1874, Mendelssohn Club Chorus has been devoted to sharing great choral music as a way to connect artists, audiences and communities. Mendelssohn Club continues to expand its repertoire in the 21st century by collaborating with a wide range of musical organizations, each of which is devoted to representing, or reaching out to, new audiences in innovative ways. Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia performs choral music to create a shared transcendent experience among its singers and audiences. Through the excellence of its adventurous performances, Mendelssohn Club advances the development of choral music as an art form.


During its long, rich history, Mendelssohn Club played a role in forming the Philadelphia Orchestra; gave the Philadelphia premiere of the Brahms Requiem, provided more than 300 singers for the American premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, gave the first performance outside of Soviet Union of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13; and was nominated for a GRAMMY for its recording of the Vincent Persichetti Winter Cantata. Earlier this year, Mendelssohn Club made choral music history again when it presented the North American premiere of the Bach-Mendelssohn St. Matthew Passion to rave reviews.


The 140-voice chorus is a highly artistic, auditioned chorus, made up of 12 professional core singers; music teachers, professors, therapists, and instrumentalists, as well as those with music training but who have other non-music-related professions. That the chorus’s projects are recognized both for their artistic achievement and as the critical gathering place that it provides for a community passionate about singing speaks to the integral role that it plays in the region, particularly Philadelphia’s singers, instrumentalists, composers, collaborating organizations that they employ and the audiences that they inspire.


Mendelssohn Club believes in taking artistic risks that stretch and challenge its singers and audiences; in supporting the talent, passion, and dedication of its singers, and in the powerful communal experience that comes from shared music-making; in respecting the commitment and appreciation of the audience members; and in ensuring Mendelssohn Club’s long-term stability as an important cultural resource in the region and as an influence in the world of choral music.


“With a passionate commitment to artistic excellence, repertoire diversity, audience engagement, and commissioning new works, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, under the direction of Maestro Alan Harler, continues to be a dynamic, vibrant, and relevant choral ensemble in the greater Philadelphia community.”


Rollo Dillworth, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Chorus America


For information about Mendelssohn Club’s concerts and programs, visit You can also find Mendelssohn Club on Facebook at


Alan Harler, Artistic Director


Throughout his distinguished musical career as Artistic Director of Mendelssohn Club, Alan Harler has been a strong advocate for new American music. During his tenure with Mendelssohn Club, he has commissioned over 55 new compositions, including Byron Au Young’s TURBINE (2015), Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer prize-winning Anthracite Fields (2014), David Lang’s battle hymns (2009), Jennifer Higdon’s On the Death of the Righteous (2009), Pauline Oliveros’ Urban Echo: Circle Told (2008) and Robert Moran’s Requiem: Chant du Cygne (1990). Other major commissions included Charles Fussell’s Specimen Days (1992), Robert Stern’s Returning the Song (1994), Cynthia Folio’s Touch the Angel’s Hand (1994), James Primosch’s Fire Memory/ River Memory (1998), Charles Fussell’s High Bridge (2003), and Andrea Clearfield’s The Golem Psalms (2006).


In 1994, Harler conducted Mendelssohn Club in a critically acclaimed recording of the Moran Requiem for Argo/London Records. Under his baton the chorus also released Metamorphosis in 2011. The CD featured Mendelssohn Club commissions by Philadelphia-based composers Jennifer Higdon, Andrea Clearfield, and James Primosch. In recognition of Harler’s contribution to new music, in 2007 Mendelssohn Club established the Alan Harler New Ventures Fund, an endowment to ensure the future commissioning and production of new works and innovative collaborations.


Alan Harler has been honored frequently by his peers nationwide and by leading arts organizations and educational institutions. In 2009, his provocative programming vision was recognized by Chorus America with the Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art. That same year, he was also honored by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia with an Honorary Lifetime Membership for Distinguished Contribution to the Musical Life of Philadelphia.


Harler received the 2007 Elaine Brown Award for Lifelong Service to Choral Music given by the Pennsylvania Division of the American Choral Director’s Association. That same year, he conducted the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Handel’s Messiah, an honor typically offered to orchestral conductors. In 1995, he was elected to the Board of Chorus America, the national association of professional and volunteer choruses, a position he held for several years.


Harler also served from 1981 to 2010 as Laura H. Carnell Professor and Chairman of Choral Music at Temple University’s Esther Boyer College of Music. As conductor of the Temple University Concert Choir, he conducted many Philadelphia concert premieres, including Moran’s Hagoromo, Alfred Schnittke’s Requiem, and Arvo Pärt’s Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Joannem. In 2005, Temple University presented him with its Creative Achievement Award.


Alan Harler has been an active conductor outside of Philadelphia, having performed regularly at the Festival Casals in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Aspen Choral Institute. He has also given master classes and conducted performances in Taiwan and China under the sponsorship of the Taiwan Philharmonic Association. He has prepared choruses for many of the country’s leading orchestras and conductors including Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Ricardo Muti, David Roberstson, Max Rudolph, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Klaus Tennstedt.


Harler currently serves as a Conducting Mentor with the Conductors Guild, making himself available for consultation with young conductors internationally. At Mendelssohn Club, he works with a young apprentice conductor each year through the Conducting Apprenticeship Program.


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