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City on fire

The 2020 port of Beirut disaster summoned a surprising historic echo: In 1947, the gulf port of Texas City was also decimated by a giant ammonium-nitrate explosion. America’s deadliest industrial accident surfaced race-, class-, and gender-based oppression. But the devastation also catalyzed hopeful change, through a groundbreaking lawsuit, and the first glimmers of Southern integration … at a Texas cemetery. 

Luna Pearl Woolf, Composer

Luna Pearl Woolf_small.jpg

Luna Pearl Woolf works at the pinnacle of a new generation of politically conscious and artistically progressive vocal composers. Praised by The New York Times for its “psychological nuances and emotional depth,” her music has been heard widely across North America and Europe.

city on fire • The Proposal

David Van Taylor, Librettist

David Van Taylor_small.jpg

David Van Taylor is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and more. His ever-evolving work—from feature docs to nonfiction series and beyond—has helped expand the forms of nonfiction film over several decades. City on Fire is his third collaboration with Luna Pearl Woolf. 

Curator discussion

With Curators: Brian Rosen & Mark Streshinsky & Alexa Anderson

Artist Interviews: City On Fire

InFocus Issue 4

City on Fire

Get to know them: First Opera Stories

previous work samples

Composer Luna pearl woolf introduces Jacqueline

Composer Luna pearl woolf introduces

To The Fire

Composer Luna pearl woolf and Librettist David Van Taylor introduce

The Pillar

Excerpt from Jacqueline

Audio of Excerpt of 

To The Fire

Excerpt from

The Pillar

luna pearl woolf Bio:

Luna Pearl Woolf works “at the pinnacle of a new generation of politically conscious and artistically progressive composers” (Primephonic). Her music, praised by The New York Times for its “psychological nuances and emotional depth,” has been heard widely across North America and Europe. Throughout diverse collaborations with authors, filmmakers, and dancers, Woolf’s music is characterized by its penetrating focus on music’s capacity as a storytelling language. 


Woolf is particularly renowned in the field of opera and vocal music. Tapestry Opera premiered her Jacqueline, about legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pré (with a libretto by Royce Vavrek) in February 2020. The production garnered five nominations and a win in Toronto’s prestigious Dora Awards; Opera Going Toronto called it “a brilliant, wrenching chamber work … a profoundly moving opera, one that shreds the emotions.” Après moi, le déluge, Woolf’s post-Katrina lament for cello and choir, has been performed more than a dozen times across the US and Canada, including in New Orleans and at Carnegie Hall. The New York Times called Après moi “blazingly ardent and softly haunting,” and Strings magazine described it as “sorrowful, deeply political, and aching with universal regret.” In 2016, The Washington National Opera commissioned and presented Woolf’s Better Gods for its American Opera Initiative. Awarded one of Opera America’s inaugural Discovery Grants for female composers in 2014, Woolf developed her opera The Pillar with librettist David Van Taylor; a meditation on loyalty, corruption and the nature of love as seen through the Madoff family story, which The Washington Post described as “splendid” and “wrenching, realistic theater.” 


Woolf’s discography includes the composer-portrait album LUNA PEARL WOOLF: Fire and Flood, released in January 2020 on the PENTATONE Oxingale Series. The album comprises 25 years of vocal works performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, cellist Matt Haimovitz, and others, conducted by Julian Wachner. New York Times contributor Corinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim comments, “Woolf trains a zoom lens on the collective experience, sometimes plunging us right into the midst of destruction and anarchy only to pull back, in one swoop, to a clear-eyed plane of compassion.” Other recent releases include Angel Heart, a music storybook narrated by Jeremy Irons, alongside a new German-language edition with author Cornelia Funke narrating. 


Woolf founded the groundbreaking Oxingale Records with Matt Haimovitz in 2000, garnering multiple GRAMMY, INDIE and JUNO awards and nominations. In 2010 she launched Oxingale Music to publish works by award-winning contemporary composers. Born and raised in Western Massachusetts, Luna Pearl Woolf graduated summa cum laudefrom Harvard University, and has studied at Smith and Amherst Colleges and Oberlin Conservatory. She lives with her family in Montreal, Canada.

david van taylor Bio:

David Van Taylor is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and more. Over several decades, his ever-evolving work has helped expand the forms of nonfiction film, and his activism has led to crucial reforms in rights and working conditions in the field. And he’s a practicing librettist, too! 


Van Taylor’s films have shown around the world, from the Berlin Film Festival and New York’s Film Forum to PBS, HBO, and the BBC. His feature documentaries include A Perfect Candidate, which recently topped IndieWire’s “best political films of the past 20 years”; Ghosts of Attica, “timely for more than historic reasons” (NY Times); and Good Ol’ Charles Schulz, “like Peanuts, a great example of minimalist art” (SF Chronicle). He co-created the Religious Right history With God on Our Side; the pioneering “docu-soap” Local News; and To Tell the Truth, a history of documentary film. 


His kudos include a duPont-Columbia Silver Baton (the broadcast Pulitzer), the International Documentary Association Distinguished Achievement Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His films have been supported by both the NEA and the NEH, as well as by foundations including Ford, MacArthur, Pew, and Warhol. 


Van Taylor has written and directed for Robert Redford and Alex Gibney’s Death Row Stories on CNN; A&E’s Intervention; and public radio’s This American Life. 


Starting in 2012, David launched a second career writing librettos for opera and chorus. He and composer Luna Pearl Woolf have developed three projects: The Pillar, a grand opera about Ruth and Bernie Madoff; City on Fire, a chamber opera based on the largest industrial accident in U.S. history; and Number Our Days, an oratorio inspired by Jamie Livingston, who took one Polaroid daily for 17 years until the day he died from brain cancer. 


Van Taylor graduated from Harvard with a degree in Sociology and Afro-American Studies, and then taught science in a New York City public school. He has three brilliant and beautiful children.

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