Composers: Julia Wolfe
Compositions: Fire in my Mouth
Performers: The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus of New York City, New York Philharmonic/Jaap van Zweden
Catalogue Number: Decca Gold 4818606
Tragic tales of people smuggling from our own age resonate strongly with this tale of immigrant workers in New York from last century. On March 25, 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory claimed the lives of 146 garment workers. Julia Wolfe commemorates these mostly young, female immigrants of either Jewish or Italian heritage in a work of searing intensity that was performed as part of Jaap van Zweden’s inaugural season with the New York Philharmonic.
Fire in my Mouth employs the considerable resources not only of the NYP, but also 110 voices from the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and 36 members of The Crossing to represent the 146 victims. Immigration sets the words of Mollie Wexler who recalls her voyage to America. The second movement, Factory pits a mournful Yiddish tune against a boisterous Italian tarantella amidst the mechanical hubbub of the factory floor. Protest begins with the women aspiring to be American but morphs into a demonstration against poor working conditions, the singers filling the aisles.
Finally, Fire evokes the horror of the fatal blaze after which we hear the damning words activist Rose Schneiderman spoke in the aftermath. The recitation of all 146 names provides a sombre conclusion. Van Zweden and his forces bring amazing energy and ardour to the postmodernist score, investing it with a sincerity that cannot be ignored.