"ON THE THRESHOLD OF WINTER"
"The two-act monodrama, which received its searing premiere on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is about illness and death ... Mr. Hersch’s music, for all its dark and fragile beauty, offers neither comfort nor catharsis. A traumatized silence clung to the Fishman Space auditorium after the last line sung by the soprano Ah Young Hong, the opera’s blazing, lone star: “Terrible is the passage/ Into the fold/ Both for man/ And /Animal.” ... Death casts a long shadow over the recent work of Mr. Hersch, who lost a close friend to cancer while battling the disease himself. But in “On the Threshold of Winter” Mr. Hersch has given himself the space to burrow past anger and incomprehension in search of an art fired by empathy and compassion."
"... Hersch is so sincere in his darkness, and so sophisticated in his expressivity, that he can make the morbid magical."
"The opera is thoroughly Hersch-like: intense, unsparing, honest ... Sometimes the opera is beautiful and haunting; sometimes it is savage and assaultive. The score can be lean, virtually stripped bare; then it can seem semi-oceanic. No note is wasted, as usual with Hersch. Nothing is frivolous or trivial. Everything has a purpose ... Though it has the forces of a chamber opera, or something less than a chamber opera—eight instrumentalists, one singer—it has the length of a grand opera: two hours (not counting intermission). It also has the impact of a grand opera. The one singer on Wednesday night was Ah Young Hong, who performed intelligently, bravely, and searingly ... Hong delivered a tour de force. ... It has often been said, including by me, that a Hersch premiere has an air of importance. Something important is taking place. So it was on Wednesday night—maybe more than ever, given the length and scope of the work."
"... On the Threshold of Winter is a journey into fatal illness that, in Hersch's hands, acknowledges no distance, safe or otherwise, between a listener and the suffering protagonist. ... Yes, it's that dark - as Hersch tends to be, but in ways that are purely existential and without moral corruption. There are no bad personas in Hersch's works, only innocents confronting an overwhelming world."
"Hersch, now in his second decade as one of the most prominent composers in the country, writes masterly modernist music of implacable seriousness. After personal tragedy - he not only battled cancer but watched a close friend die die of the disease - he came to write his first opera, a monodrama for soprano employing texts from the final collection of the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu." — The New Yorker
IMAGES FROM A CLOSED WARD RECORDING RELEASED FEBRUARY 2014
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC BIENNIAL COMMISSION
NEW CONCERTO FOR ENSEMBLE KLANG
2014/15 CONCERT SEASON
OCTOBER 5, 2014
in the snowy margins for unaccompanied violin
OCTOBER 9, 2014
Suite from The Vanishing Pavilions for piano
OCTOBER 11, 2014
The Vanishing Pavilions (Books 1 & 2 complete)
OCTOBER 25, 2014
Black Untitled for trombone and ensemble (World Premiere)
OCTOBER 29, 2014
Michael Hersch: A Portrait
NOVEMBER 19, 2014
Images From a Closed Ward for string quartet
JANUARY 16, 2015
a sheltered corner - concerto for horn and orchestra
FEBRUARY 26, 2015
Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images of Peter Weiss for violin and piano (World Premiere)
APRIL 19, 2015
a breath upwards for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola (World Premiere)
APRIL 20, 2015
a breath upwards for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola (World Premiere)
APRIL 28, 2015
Richard Anderson's documentary film about Hersch's work as a pianist selected as a New York Times Critics' Holiday Recommendation.
“ALONG THE RAVINES” TO RECEIVE FIRST EUROPEAN PERFORMANCES WITH THE DEUTSCHE RADIO PHILHARMONIE AND AT THE GEORGE ENESCU INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
Shai Wosner Premieres Michael Hersch's Piano Concerto No. 2,
along the ravines, with the Seattle Symphony
IMAGES FROM A CLOSED WARD
"Nearly every new work by Philadelphian Michael Hersch is like a journey to the center of the Earth, each achieved by a different route and in varying vehicles. Thursday at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, the composer's medium was string quartet, and the journey itself often left you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain ... Much of the piece uses the string quartet medium to create sonorities that might be paradoxically described as vividly pale, against which there are dabs of more bold colors or short themes, vaguely pointing in several possible directions that are left unpursued. Rarely is there a completed thought: All movements end inconclusively, often with several seconds of designated silence that freezes the musical idea in suspended animation. Often, Hersch uses a series of chords, seemingly similar for being voiced with extremes of treble and bass, but with subtle differences creating forward motion and even narrative. Other times, two alternating chords suggest a musical trudge into the unknown, or maybe in circles. When Hersch adds a few extra chords to that, the piece seems to walk on all fours. Emphatic, fortissimo dissonance suggests unsolvable crisis. One movement tosses and turns, like an ill person trying to find a position without pain. Bleak? Oh yes. This isn't at all what W.B. Yeats had in mind when coining the term "terrible beauty," but it fits."
"An audience in Weill Recital Hall had a reminder of the extraordinary talent of Michael Hersch. He is an American composer born in 1971. He has written a new string quartet on commission from the music school at Vanderbilt University. Called Images from a Closed Ward, the piece takes some inspiration from art by the late Michael Mazur. His etchings and lithographs looked into hellish existence. Hersch’s string quartet is in 13 (brief) movements. As usual with him, the materials are spare, and not a note is wasted. Every note or phrase has its purpose. The first movement seems to me a bleak trudge. The second one is sharp and ferocious. The third is almost a song. A later movement is wrenching in its despair. In the end, it’s as though a clock runs out, leaving nothing but nothing—a void ... One of his markings is “haunted; stricken.” If anyone knows the trick of expressing agony in music, he does. And his command of craft, overall, is something rare. Often at his premieres, we say, “We have heard something important. We have heard music that will last.” I felt just this way about Images from a Closed Ward."
“... an expansive 45-minute work of searing energy and emotion ... Few composers have been as successful at tapping into our most primal emotions ... With 'Images from a Closed Ward,' Hersch has arguably come as close as any human to capturing, in sound, the feeling of unreachable isolation. It is the sound of a string quartet playing with rage and inconsolable sadness.”
"a highly effective new concerto for trumpet by Michael Hersch, full of visual allure, touring all sorts of dark places rarely visited by the instrument. Hersch, a professor at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, didn't have visual scenery in mind when he composed "Night Pieces" in 2009. Rather, he thought of a late, dear friend and a melancholy poem by Yeats. Yet what he produced is still powerfully evocative, a gripping journey through somber emotional states. Bursting into the foreground with violent screams, the orchestra repeatedly interrupted haunting, lyrical exchanges between the soloist and colorful partners such as harp, bass clarinet and English horn."
The Baltimore Sun Blog
SYMPHONY NO. 3 (WORLD PREMIERE)
"Hersch seems to have carved his Symphony No 3 with granitic force. He has cast it in two large movements, surrounding five brief interludes; the dense harmonies, forbidding instrumental detail and sensation of inexorability seem not to have fazed the 83-member festival orchestra. The strings brood, the brass rages and, once in a while, you encounter a consonance with the sweetness of honey. Hersch provides a few moments of relief. Before he plunges into the tumultuous finale, he offers a short episode of broken phrases, and the silences between them leave you breathless."
"Hersch's Symphony No. 3, presented after intermission, evoked a considerably darker atmosphere. ... the score introduces a chilly, often harrowing palette, with brooding strings, glowering brass and anguished cries from the woodwinds deployed in formidable blocks of sound. The effect is both mechanized and deeply human ... Hersch impresses with sheer sonic weight and intensity. Alsop, a longtime advocate of the composer — this is his fourth visit to Cabrillo — lavished considerable care on the score's world premiere."
"In its world premiere, Michael Hersch's Symphony No. 3 delved deeply into dark psychic territory with painfully raw dissonances and near-human instrumental cries. Fleeting moments of calm beauty surfaced momentarily amid the storms. Two of the work's seven movements glittered with flitting woodwind ripples, and the finale, with a weighty fugue-like expansion, provided a welcome level of repose."
"This was not a sweet sadness. Nearly unbearable, it spoke to the kind of injury from which one does not heal. A deep hurt which we hold tight to ourselves, a hurt that names us. A sudden bang on untuned drum ... The orchestra gathered to a slow thickness, a tension of dread, with shimmer and slick of violins. Trumpets cascaded sharply down, silvered threads among low strings. ... a march across life’s rhythms."
below bright multitudes there was only earth
Interview With Violinist Miranda Cuckson
ASCAP Audio Portrait
Peter Sheppard-Skaerved plays Michael Hersch