Julia Wolfe is ranked among the more important composers stylistically linked to post-minimalism. Though her music falls under that broad and somewhat nondescript tag, it is quite eclectic and almost defies classification. The listener notices a range of disparate elements in her works, from rock and minimalist influences to features such as long pauses, as in the chamber piece Lick (1994), and various extreme uses of sound, as in Window of Vulnerability (1991), which achieves massive, some might say, deafening decibel levels. She has also incorporated microtonal elements and natural sounds emanating from both rural and urban sources. Wolfe has written for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo keyboard, and for theater and film. Her works have been available on a variety of labels, including Cantaloupe, Elektra/Wea, and Point Music.
Julia Wolfe was born in Philadelphia on December 18, 1958. She studied at Yale University with Martin Bresnick, where she earned a master's degree. She enrolled at Princeton later on and obtained a doctorate degree.
In 1987 she co-founded the progressive music organization and festival Bang On A Can with her husband, composer Michael Gordon and fellow composer David Lang. Though she was already a seasoned composer at the time, having written music for productions at the Wild Swan Theater, from 1980 on, and having produced chamber works like on On Seven-Star-Shoes (1985), she would soon turn out such important compositions as Amber Waves of Grain, for orchestra (1989), and Four Marys, for string quartet (1991). Wolfe was also beginning to attract commissions from prestigious sources, including the Library of Congress, Koussevitzky Foundation, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and from ensembles like the Kronos Quartet.
In the late '90s, Wolfe collaborated with Michael Gordon and David Lang on the so-called comic book opera The Carbon Copy Building, which was premiered in Turin, Italy, in 1999. In the new century Wolfe has been active as a teacher, first at the Manhattan School of Music (from 2003) and later at New York University, where she is a professor of composition.
Among her later works is the 2009 Steel Hammer, for vocal soloists and chamber ensemble. Lasting well over an hour, this is among her largest and most imaginative compositions. Her later recordings include the 2009 Cantaloupe CD entitled Dark Full Ride, which consists of four works scored, respectively, for multiple sets of bagpipes, drums, pianos, and double basses. ~ Robert Cummings