NEA Funding Award, Press

Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Announces NEA Grant Award for its 2014 Project Anthracite Fields


Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Announces NEA Grant Award for 2014 Project Anthracite Fields

 Mendelssohn Club has been awarded a record $135,000 in grants from NEA and other major funders for its groundbreaking 2014 premiere

NEA-logo-color(PHILADELPHIA) The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today announced that Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia will receive support for Anthracite Fields, a commissioning and performance project of a new work for chorus and ensemble, with guest artist ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. Anthracite Fields will have its world premiere in Philadelphia in April 2014. The $12,000 award is the first ever NEA grant awarded to Mendelssohn Club.

The NEA supports projects to create art that meets the highest standards of excellence across a diverse spectrum of artistic disciplines and geographic locations. Through the creation of art, these projects are intended to replenish and rejuvenate America’s enduring cultural legacy. The competition was very strong, with over 220 organizations from across the US applying for funding this year.

Anthracite Fields is a major two-year project including a Wolfe commission, ancillary events, audience engagement, and performances. The 45-minute, multi-movement commission will draw its inspiration from folk music and legends related to the life and times of Pennsylvania mine workers. Wolfe’s work will explore the folk idiom, both the layering of stories that create legend and their associated folk tunes, reconstructed into a new form. Ms. Wolfe will begin researching and writing her commission in 2013 and the majority of community outreach, marketing, and preparation will be in 2014.

The world premiere will take place in April 2014 in the historic Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, a space with acoustical and physical qualities that complement the folk stories that will comprise the project’s libretto. Wolfe plans to use the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral’s intrinsic acoustical and structural qualities and the sonic power and tapestry of a symphonic-size chorus as core artistic qualities.

Julia Wolfe has a deep interest in folk legends, so ancillary events will focus on personal narratives. The songs and stories gathered for Anthracite Fields over the next 18-months will form the foundation for a new classical form performed by a symphonic-size chorus of more than 130 voices along with Bang on a Can All-Stars in a chamber/folk ensemble using classical and folk instruments. Research will include folk stories, text from traditional mining songs, personal stories by chorus members and the community at large, with local working communities sharing their stories. Other creative partners involved in the research phase include Hal Real’s LiveConnections, World Café Live and First Person Arts.

Anthracite Fields is among some of our most groundbreaking projects in the 139-year history of this chorus,” said Mendelssohn Club Artistic Director Alan Harler. “It certainly matches such groundbreaking productions as battle hymns and ‘Urban Echo: Circle Told,’ our work with composer Pauline Oliveros from several years ago.“ Harler added, “Not only will we be working with Julia Wolfe, an acclaimed finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, but also with Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of the foremost musical ensembles in contemporary music.”

Mendelssohn Club Executive Director Janelle McCoy was elated to share this latest news about such large grant awards for the organization’s most ambitious choral project. “This is wonderful news on every level. Two years in advance, the majority of funding has been raised, thanks to the generous support of these funders. Now we can focus on expanding the project and possibly recording it.”

Ms. McCoy noted that “the NEA panel was excited that we are working to break down barriers to choral music and expanding it as an art form by using this folk-infused choral cantata as a new classical hybrid. They were also very enthusiastic about using Julia Wolfe as our composer. The NEA committee indicated that the commission represented something wholly unique and was a remarkable examination of practice.”

According to McCoy, “The NEA grant committee appreciated the aspects of community engagement we are using, including story circles and concert folk singing and they felt that the concert format was innovative and a continuation of our experimentation with new formats.”

Anthracite Fields  was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, 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, and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Pew Philadelphia Music Project.

Earlier this year, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia announced three major grant awards totaling $123,000 which will fund its largest ever interactive choral project, Anthracite Fields . The largest grant, $77,000, is being awarded from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Pew Philadelphia Music Project. $30,000 will be awarded by The Presser Foundation and Mendelssohn Club will receive $16,000 in commissioning support from Meet The Composer through their program COMMISSIONING MUSIC/USA. The new NEA grant brings the grant award total for Anthracite Fields  to $135,000, the largest sum ever raised by Mendelssohn Club for a single project or commission.


Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia
For nearly fourteen decades, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia has been devoted to sharing great choral music as a way to connect artists, audiences and communities. Mendelssohn Club Chorus, one of America’s oldest choruses, 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 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.

“Few organizations have so strategically embraced innovation and collaboration.” explains Tom Kaiden of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, “Mendelssohn Club constantly finds new ways to bring the audience into the experience. It’s why they are one of the most exciting choruses in America today.”

For information about Mendelssohn Club’s concerts and programs, or to order tickets for the 2012-2013 season, visit You can also find Mendelssohn Club on Facebook at


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Background: BIG SING / Julia Wolfe

As Mendelssohn Club has often mixed genres in past collaborations (i.e. dance, film), it will look to Wolfe’s commission to blur musical idiom and engage personal stories into her commission. Wolfe’s work will explore layering of legends and associated melodies, which will inspire a new classical fusion. The commission will support Mendelssohn Club’s continuing exploration of staging, textures of sound, site-specific work and how all elements can build a new hybrid of choral art.

Mendelssohn Club will collaborate with local Philadelphia organizations, such as LiveConnections (World Café Live) and First Person Arts, to explore personal stories that connect traditions. Other audience engagement opportunities will include a folk sing-in in the BIG SING format during the concert. Prior to the performances, the audience will be given context, chorus member blogs and musical material via social media portals.

Wolfe’s approach with her commission Steel Hammer, driven by Appalachian legends and music, culled over 200 John Henry ballads. As a Pennsylvania native, Wolfe’s interest lies in the Wilkes-Barre mining conflicts. Wolfe will explore variations of community struggles, fragmenting and weaving contradictory accounts to tell the “story” of the story, and the diverse paths these stories traveled. Research will include folk stories, text from traditional mining songs, personal stories by chorus members and the community at large, as stories extend into local working communities.

As in Steel Hammer, Wolfe demonstrates her genius for using acoustic instruments (folk and classical) to create layers of sound. In this work, she shows the canvas that three voices accompanied by Bang on a Can All-Stars can produce. A commission employing similar tactics married with the sheer power and possibility of a large symphonic chorus is truly ground breaking; it defies genre and engages rock, pop, classical, and folk audiences. Bang on a Can All-Stars (Musical America’s 2005 Ensemble of the Year) will play classical and folk instruments, specifically blurring lines between classical and other genres.

Through the collaborations inherent in this project, there are opportunities to reach beyond traditional audiences to a more diverse constituency. Mendelssohn Club will explore the folk “sing in” experience at the beginning of the performance, teaching the audience the stories and/or folk tunes that are the basis for Wolfe’s commission. Some of the ancillary events, such as the First Person Arts “story slam” are especially unique and completely new. First Person Arts transforms real life into memoir art to foster appreciation for a unique and shared experience. Mendelssohn Club will use First Person Arts’ story slam format to encourage others to share recollections related to labor. “Slams” will provide contextual material for the work, but also opportunities to connect to Mendelssohn Club.

To enhance educational outreach, LiveConnections will use its innovative music education programs, also held at World Café Live, to connect cultures and spark a visceral interest in music. Prior to attending an educational LiveConnections “Bridge Session,” teaching artists will work with teachers to create curricula specific to each project– such as personal narrative development. Students will have the opportunity for their stories to be a part of the performance, whether by informing the libretto or constructing a similar small work that is included in the concert.

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Janelle McCoy, Executive Director, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, 215.735.9922
Edward McNally, Above The Fold PR, 404.281.6419

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