New York Philharmonic premieres Julia Wolfe's oratorio, 'Fire in my mouth'

New York Philharmonic premieres Julia Wolfe's oratorio, 'Fire in my mouth'
© Julia Wolfe, courtesy Red Poppy

Tonight and through the weekend (January 24-26, 2019), conductor Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic premiere Julia Wolfe's large-scale oratorio for orchestra and women's chorus, Fire in my mouth.

With Fire in my mouth, Wolfe takes on the subject of young immigrant women working in New York's garment industry at the turn of the 20th century. The women arrived in America with optimism and sewing skills, and their heroic uprising brought significant change to the American workplace. This immersive, multimedia performance will feature the New York Philharmonic, 36 women of the chamber choir The Crossing, 110 young women of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, with stage direction by Anne Kauffman and visual production design by Jeff Sugg.

Read The New York Times' exclusive preview of Fire in my mouth

Wolfe has previously explored American labor history with Steel Hammer, her reimagining of the John Henry legend, and Anthracite Fields, an oratorio about Pennsylvania coal miners. Anthracite Fields was presented at the 2016 New York Philharmonic Biennial and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music, while the recording with the Bang on a Can All Stars and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Wolfe was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 2016.

Listen to Anthracite Fields and Steel Hammer on Spotify

The title of Wolfe's new work comes from labor activist Clara Lemlich, who, when looking back on her radical youth said, 'Ah, then I had fire in my mouth'. The eponymous fire also refers to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, where 146 people died — mostly immigrant women. To compose Fire in my mouth, Wolfe used her signature intensive research methods, drawing on oral histories, speeches, interviews, and historical writings. The music captures the roar of hundreds of sewing machines and the language of protest, recreating the world of New York women's labor a century ago.

Fire in my mouth was co-commissioned by The New York Philharmonic, Stuart and Linda Nelson, and a consortium of universities: Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley; the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

For more information on Julia Wolfe's music, please contact Matt Trent –


Image: Red Poppy

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