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Composer Julia Wolfe is used to writing music for ensembles of all shapes and sizes. But she’d never before written a score that called for clogging — nor wooden bones, banjo, or mountain dulcimer.
But “Steel Hammer,” her epic explosion and reconstruction of the folk ballad “John Henry,” called for a real down-home feel. Aptly, the musicians she works with tend to have meticulous conservatory training but catholic sensibilities when it comes to musical style.
In its deliberate intermingling of folk traditions and what we might call art music, “Steel Hammer” is very much in keeping with the other offerings at the 12th Bang on a Can Summer Festival, which begins Wednesday at MASS MoCA. (One of the festival centerpieces, it will be performed July 27.)