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Bang on a Can Announces the video premiere a New Film featuring Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer on May 6

Presented as part of the Cal Performances at Home Performing Arts Streaming Series

Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT - Digital Watch Party

Bang on a Can announces the Cal Performances at Home video premiere of a new film, Steel Hammer, featuring the acclaimed oratorio by Bang on a Can’s co-founder, Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe. Cal Performances has worked closely with filmmaker Jeremy Robins and Wolfe to create this new film which will premiere virtually on Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7pm PDT. It will be available for ticket holders to stream on demand through August 4, 2021. Tickets ($15 General, $5 UCB students) are available at

Wolfe’s Steel Hammer is a meditation on over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad. The various versions, based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales, reveal both the evolution of the story, as well as the timeless tale of human versus machine. Wolfe draws upon the extreme variations of the story, fragmenting and weaving the contradictory versions of the ballad that have circulated since the late 1800s, into a new whole in order to tell the story of the story and to embody the simultaneous diverse paths it traveled. The Bang on a Can All-Stars add a slew of instruments to their usual line up - mountain dulcimer, wooden bones, banjo, harmonicas, and body percussion, as well as a dynamic trio of three female voices, to tell the tale.

The Steel Hammer film soundtrack features the Bang on a Can All-Stars: Robert Black, bass; David Cossin, percussion; Vicky Chow, piano and melodica; Arlen Hlusko, cello; Mark Stewart, electric guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, harmonica; and Ken Thomson, clarinets and harmonica, and a new vocal trio: Rebecca Hargrove, Sonya Headlam, Molly Netter. It was produced by David Cossin, with David Bloom as music director.

This film iteration of Steel Hammer continues an evolutionary journey of the work since its inception. Originally commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the work premiered on tour in the US in the fall of 2009 featuring Bang on a Can All-Stars and Norway’s renowned Trio Mediaeval. It was a runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and was recorded and released on Cantaloupe Music in 2015. In 2015, Wolfe teamed up with acclaimed American director Anne Bogart for a dramatized stage production incorporating Wolfe’s complete musical work Steel Hammer and text from four remarkable American playwrights - Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor. Directed by Anne Bogart, the fully staged production featured the Bang on a Can All-Stars alongside the celebrated actors of SITI Company and was developed and premiered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was commissioned by the Krannert Center and by BAM for the 2015 Next Wave Festival. In the 2021 film version, singers Rebecca Hargrove, Sonya Headlam, and Molly Netter now add their superb musicianship and a distinctly American vocal sound – the newest chapter in the Steel Hammer story.

A work that explores the historical truths—and contradictory truths—of the industrial age, Steel Hammer is presented in 2021 as part of Cal Performances’ Illuminations: Fact or Fiction series, which investigates the ways artists and scholars balance the art of storytelling with questions of historical accuracy, exploring the tension between “creative license” and what happens when alterations of fact impact our ability to tell the difference between what is true and what is false.

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