"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."
The New York Times

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"... Hersch is so sincere in his darkness, and so sophisticated in his expressivity, that he can make the morbid magical."
New York Magazine

"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."
The New Criterion

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"... 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."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

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"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




Recent Projects

In Images from a Closed Ward Hersch takes his inspiration from artist Michael Mazur’s (1935-2009) etchings and lithographs of inmates from a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s. Of the music, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that it "left you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain ...” Of the premiere in 2012, ArtNowNashville wrote that, "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."
"Michael Hersch: Images from a Closed Ward" is available on arkivmusic iTunes

The New York Philharmonic has commissioned Hersch to write a work for solo violin to be premiered during the orchestra's inaugural Biennial, which will take place for two weeks in May and June of 2014. Hersch's work Of Sorrow Born: Seven Elegies for unaccompanied violin will be premiered on June 3, 2014 at SubCulture by Yulia Ziskel.

One of the premiere contemporary music ensembles in the Netherlands, Ensemble Klang has commissioned Michael Hersch to write a new work for the 2014/15 concert season. The work, a concerto for trombone and ensemble, will premiere on October 25, 2014 at the Orgelpark in Amersterdam. More information soon at:



OCTOBER 5, 2014

in the snowy margins for unaccompanied violin
Miranda Cuckson, violin
Concert Artist Series
Haverford, PA
New York, NY

OCTOBER 9, 2014

Suite from The Vanishing Pavilions for piano
Jacob Rhodebeck, piano
Trinity Luteran Church
31-18 37th Street
Astoria, Queens, NY

OCTOBER 11, 2014

The Vanishing Pavilions (Books 1 & 2 complete)
Jacob Rhodebeck, piano
Tenri Cultural Institute
New York, NY

OCTOBER 25, 2014

Black Untitled for trombone and ensemble (World Premiere)
Ensemble Klang
Anton van Houten, trombone
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

OCTOBER 29, 2014

Michael Hersch: A Portrait
of ages manifest for unaccompanied alto saxophone
Of Sorrow Born: Seven Elegies for unaccompanied violin
Images From a Closed Ward for string quartet
Gary Louie, saxophone
Peter Sheppard Skaerved, violin
The Kreutzer String Quartet
St. Gabriel's, Pimlico
London, England

NOVEMBER 19, 2014

Images From a Closed Ward for string quartet
The Kreutzer String Quartet
Connect New Musc Festival
Malmo, Sweden

JANUARY 16, 2015

a sheltered corner - concerto for horn and orchestra
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Jamie Hersch, horn

FEBRUARY 26, 2015

Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images of Peter Weiss for violin and piano (World Premiere)
Carolyn Huebl, violin
Mark Wait, piano
Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music
Nashville, TN

APRIL 19, 2015

a breath upwards for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola (World Premiere)
Network for New Music
Ah Young Hong, soprano
Gould Concert Hall - Curtis Institute
Philadelphia, PA

APRIL 20, 2015

a breath upwards for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola (World Premiere)
Network for New Music
Ah Young Hong, soprano
Marshall Auditorium - Haverford College
Haverford, PA

APRIL 28, 2015

Recording Release
Last Autumn for horn and cello
Jamie Hersch, horn
Daniel Gaisford, cello
Innova Records

Featured Article

A Survivor Inspired by Love and Loss:
Michael Hersch's New Opera Reflects on a Friend's Death

Published: June 20, 2014


Recent News

2015 and 2016 will see releases of two recordings: the first, a boxed-set release of Hersch's epic for horn and cello, Last Autumn, as performed by Jamie Hersch and Daniel Gaisford. After its premiere in Philadelphia in 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer named it as among most important classical events of the year. The paper noted, "Written in two parts that last three hours, Last Autumn has 41 exclamatory movements, many of them haiku-like, creating a composite portrait of something too huge and undefinable, glorious and terrible, to be seen in anything more than glimpses ... The concert was recorded, so Last Autumn eventually will be available to more listeners than Saturday's intrepid audience, whose long, vigorous applause indicated that Hersch's more personal and demanding works are no longer appreciated by only a few."

The second recording will be an all-Hersch disc with performances by the Cleveland Orchestra, Michael Sachs, Thomas Hampson, Garrick Ohlsson, and the composer. Works will include Night Pieces for trumpet and orchestra (a Cleveland Orchestra commission) and Domicilium, a song cycle after texts of Thomas Hardy (commissioned by Thomas Hampson and the A.S.C.A.P. Kingsford Commissions for Art Songs). Garrick Ohlsson performs Hersch's Tenebrae for solo piano, and the composer performs the Two Lullabies for solo piano.

In early 2015, Hersch’s evening-length work for violin and piano, Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images of Peter Weiss, commissioned by Vanderbilt University for Carolyn Huebl and Mark Wait will premiere in Nashville, TN.

"...astounding facility at the keyboard." —International Piano
"...astonishing virtuosity." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

A rare glimpse into Hersch's acclaimed pianism, his first NY recital in over a decade was recorded live and is available on the Innova record label.
Program Notes by Jason Eckardt

Richard Anderson's documentary film about Hersch's work as a pianist selected as a New York Times Critics' Holiday Recommendation.
Richard Anderson's documentary film about Hersch's work as a pianist was selected as a New York Times Critics' Holiday Recommendation. The paper noted: The Sudden Pianist focuses on the composer Michael Hersch, who writes works that are often startling in their complexity, beauty and demonic fury. Mr. Hersch is also a pianist, albeit one who rarely performs publicly. A film by Richard Anderson explores Mr. Hersch’s compositions for the piano; a companion CD features his remarkable “The Vanishing Pavilions,” inspired by the poetry of Christopher Middleton.

The Sudden Pianist named as an official selection of four film festivals including the 2013 American Documentary Film Festival, 2013 New York City Independent Film Festival, 2013 Artisan Festival International - World Cinema Festival Hamptons, and the 2014 Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival.

Hersch joins composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Tristan Murail and Jorg Widmann as a featured composer-in-residence during the 2013 Enescu International Festival in Romania. “along the ravines” will be performed in Bucharest by pianist Matei Varga and the Timisoara Philharmonic under Radu Popa. Pianist Shai Wosner will give the German Premiere of the work with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie under Tito Munoz in late March 2014.

Shai Wosner Premieres Michael Hersch's Piano Concerto No. 2, along the ravines, with the Seattle Symphony
Excerpts from the world premiere performance of Along the Ravines.
Shai Wosner, piano; Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Recent Reviews

for string quartet (World, New York Premieres)

"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."
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns (April 10, 2012)

"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."
-- City Arts, Jay Nordlinger (April 17, 2012)

“... 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.”
-- ArtNowNashville, John Pitcher (February 2012)

for trumpet and orchestra (World Premiere)

"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 Cleveland Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis (March 17, 2012)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
NIGHT PIECES: Premiere Preview
Published: March 11, 2012

The New Criterion
Michael Hersch at Merkin Hall
Published: December 2011

The Baltimore Sun Blog
Recording Review: the wreckage of flowers
by Logan K. Young
Published: November 1, 2011
Born in Washington, based in Baltimore, composer Michael Hersch is indeed a local marvel. In fact, given his myriad early successes, increasingly high-profile commissions and prodigious keyboard skills, I’d argue he’s the Beltway’s own Thomas Adès. No, that’s not hyperbole; Hersch really is that unique a voice, that solid a musician...


"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."
-- The Financial Times of London, Allan Ulrich

"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." 
-- The San Jose Mercury News, Georgia Rowe

"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."
-- The Santa Cruz Sentinel, Phyllis Rosenblum

"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."
-- The Piedmont Post, Adam Broner



below bright multitudes there was only earth
a short film by Alex Levy/music by Michael Hersch

Interview With Violinist Miranda Cuckson
Violinist Miranda Cuckson speaks about her interest in new music, her artistic collaboration with composer Michael Hersch.

The Hopkins Review – Spring 2011
On the Life of a Twenty-First Century Composer: Michael Hersch
by Susan Forscher Weiss

ASCAP Audio Portrait
February 17, 2011 - The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers highly acclaimed Audio Portraits series gives listeners unique insight into the creative process, as told by the writers themselves.

Peter Sheppard-Skaerved plays Michael Hersch
Michael Hersch: Five Fragments for unaccompanied violin
Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, violin
Galleria Marco - Mexico City
Click here to listen


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