Press

Press Quotes

"The intellectual brilliance involved is startling enough; the addition of expressive intensity can be almost overwhelming ..."
— The Baltimore Sun (2015)
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"composer Michael Hersch usually leaves you gasping - cognitively speaking - to keep up ... But in his new song cycle, a breath upwards, Hersch stopped me in my tracks as he explored a narrower-than-usual range of sound, harmony and gesture, requiring a more minute exploration of the tension between music and texts from Dante's Inferno and related ones by Ezra Pound. This piece went inward with fine gradations of awe, disbelief and contemplation of the incomprehensible."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2015)

"Michael Hersch is quickly emerging as one of the most important composers of his generation."
— Philadelphia City Paper (2015)

" A pervasive melancholy is present throughout the work, with episodes of shocking violence; the succession of movements coalesces into a large structure, masterfully ebbing and flowing but with an underlying tension that is never absent... A powerful and disturbing listening experience..."
— Records International (2015)
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"... music of extraordinary precision and daunting technical difficulty."
— Nashville Scene (2015)
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"dramatic, unsettling and emotionally potent ... an expansive insight into Mr. Hersch’s dark-hued aesthetic."
— The New York Times (2014)
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"concentrated writing that constantly demands full attention from the listener ... Hersch’s ear for texture is magnificent ..."
— Fanfare (2014)

"Hersch, now in his second decade as one of the most prominent composers in the country, writes masterly modernist music of implacable seriousness."
— The New Yorker (2014)
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"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 ... 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 (2014)
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"... a masterpiece."
— Cotidianul.ro (2014)
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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 (2014)
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"... works that are often startling in their complexity, beauty and demonic fury."
— The New York Times (2013)

"... 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 ... touring all sorts of dark places rarely visited by the instrument."
— The Cleveland Plain-Dealer (2012) on Night Pieces for trumpet and orchestra
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"Nearly every new work by 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 that's taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain. ... haiku-like micro movements that teem with cumulative impact."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2012)

"... [a] boldly designed work ... True to his refreshing penchant for the outer boundaries of expression, Hersch frequently sets the upper end of the dynamic gamut in vivid contrast with some equally extreme quiet passages ... by no means easy listening, but I find it profoundly rewarding and no end fascinating."
— Musicweb International (2012) on along the ravines for piano and orchestra
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" ... an intensely focused seven-movement score in which bursts of dissonant chordal figuration are offset by tense, foreboding silences ... he writes with an almost painterly variety ..."
— The New York Times (2011) on in the snowy margins for unaccompanied violin
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"Michael Hersch writes music that can take the tiniest of gestures and within seconds wreak havoc on one's emotional state. The brief Fourteen Pieces for unaccompanied violin on texts of Primo Levi take on images of dread - "dense violent dreams," one line reads ... The sixth movement beginning "I won't go far," sounds like a tentative but graceful reaching -- a trapeze artists with no net stretching an arm out."
— The Newark Star-Ledger (2011)
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"Hersch is a startling talent. He writes music that contains great complexity, but is remarkably lucid ... The dense harmonic blocks and mazes of percussive assaults seem to speak from a world of trouble, fear and doubt. But shards of light penetrate the music in ways that prove just as powerful. The superb orchestration ensures that each tormented peak and each moment of reflection registers clearly."
— The Baltimore Sun (2011) - on the Symphony No. 2
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"Network for New Music unveiled Michael Hersch's A Forest of Attics, a work of searing honesty even by his expressionistic standards. ... A Forest of Attics'threw a Molotov cocktail into the concert: Everything before it paled in comparison. ...the music felt like war, with gestures erupting like sirens, high wind writing that sounded like screaming and rapid-fire percussion - all deployed with the control of a master but little sense of resolution. Hersch has written some towering works in recent years; this is yet another."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2010)

"In 2005, Hersch finished The Vanishing Pavilions, a profound, visionary, almost apocalyptic work for piano that takes approximately two and a half hours to play. Hersch has now written a similar work called Last Autumn. The music is recognizably Herschian: concentrated, mysterious, riveting ... Hersch writes as though his life depended on it, as though everything were at stake."
— The New Criterion (2010)
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"Michael Hersch's Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied cello is one of his earliest published works, written when he was 23, in 1994. The riveting piece, given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford, is included on the first of three discs featuring Mr. Hersch’s solo and chamber music for string instruments ... The intensity and communicative power of this sonata, at times an anguished lament, is typical of much of Mr. Hersch’s work. The sonata’s profoundly solitary, rhapsodic first movement veers between yearning lyricism and agitated outbursts. The reflective second movement ... ebbs and flows into the harmonically rich final movement, with its virtuoso challenges and almost brutal intensity."
— The New York Times (2010)
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"... supremely gifted"
— Philadelphia Daily News (2010)

"There is an urgency and terseness to Michael Hersch's writing that retains interest from first to last. This is disquieting music, to be sure. It holds its spell not because it offers windows of hope but because it forces us to examine ourselves as we are now."
— Fanfare Magazine (2008)

"These performances confirm Michael Hersch as one of the most seriously engaging musical voices in the U.S. today. The Second Symphony marries a volcanic New World energy to a deeply skeptical, often angst-ridden spiritual climate."
— The Financial Times (2007)

"... a unique voice in American music: he doesn’t follow any formula, just his own potent instincts."
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2006)

" ... he totally eschews cliché. Each idea unfolds in the length of time it needs to make its point. Let your attention wander for a second, and you've missed something. Concentrate, think, be patient, and the rewards for listening are everywhere."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2005)

"... a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself ... dark, brooding and charged with an unrelenting and unforgettable intensity."
— The Washington Post (2005)
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"Finally in this debut disc, the world outside of a few cities is able to be immersed in the unsettling yet pristine realm of composer Michael Hersch ... vast expanses of muted splendor and large-scale developments ... Hersch's ability to sustain intensity over quiet and deliberate themes is remarkable."
— The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2004)
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"His Recordatio in memory of Luciano Berio, displays the combination of ascetic rigor and freedom of expression characteristic of all his music. The actual melodic material is almost negligible: short clusters made of very few notes, like rapid ornamental gruppettos, superimposed over bands of sound, single notes or intervals sustained with the pedal. ... an occasional whirlpool of ascending atonal arpeggios; distinct treatment of the keyboard's registers, each with its own separate phrasing and articulation — yet these limited materials suffice to build a whole world."
— andante.com (2003) - on the premiere, Romaeuropa Festival

"... astounding facility at the keyboard."
— International Piano (2003)

"The Piano Concerto … is a tremendous achievement. It not only recasts the very nature of concertos but creates a realm of illusive meaning and segmented thought that mirrors the way we think and mourn."
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2003)
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"The cello by itself has hardly ever resounded so brilliantly as in Hersch's Sonata No. 2 for Solo Cello... arresting ideas and sonic miracles piled in one upon another for nearly 50 minutes in this, the closing work of the concert. Once again, one was impressed by a huge musical intellect who isn't, at least for now, aiming for the hit parade."
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2003)

"... a stunning virtuosity that dropped one’s jaw."
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2003)
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"Hersch demonstrates an impressive control of dissonance and a keen textural awareness of sound. His writing swings between the hazy and the precise, between a dark, tone-clustered opacity that hits in the gut, and a crystalline transparency that draws the ear toward the smallest details: a pair of falling intervals on the piano, a muted jab in the basses. The piece ends with a series of blurry chords held in the lower strings. These final notes are present but mysteriously distant, like the memory of sound corrupted by the distance of time."
— The Washington Post (2002) on the Symphony No. 2

" ... a prodigy of immense proportions."
— Marin Alsop in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (2002)

“No doubt the composer, at the age of 30, ranks as the new hope of American musical culture.”
— Berliner Morgenpost (2002)

"... extraordinarily communicative music ... Mr. Hersch's music speaks for itself eloquently."
— The New York Times (2001)
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"... a haiku-like series of economic gestures with devastating emotional impact."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2001)

"If the symmetries and proportions of Mr. Hersch's music evoke the grounded fixity of architecture, its dynamism and spontaneous evolution are those of the natural world. Its somber eloquence sings of truths that are personal yet not confessional ... within the sober palette, the expressive power and range are vast."
— The New York Times (2001)
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"... a Promethean creator who has been charged with relaying his particular message. He combines a mixture of urgency and facility that is dazzling."
— The Washington Post (1999)


Profiles

The New York Times A Survivor, Inspired by Love and Loss
The New York Times, June 20, 2014
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His Own Drum The National Review, May 28, 2012
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A Composer Ready to Paint the Town Red
The New York Times, January 7, 2001
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Interviews

The New York Times

'Winter' is a deeply personal debut opera for Peabody's Michael Hersch JHU Hub Magazine, June 30, 2014
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Michael Hersch, Illustration by Luca Laurenti

Mourning Through Music: Michael Hersch in Conversation with Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson Johns Hopkins Health Review
Fall/Winter 2015 Volume 2 Issue 2
"Pianist and composer Michael Hersch is on the Composition faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. His music has premiered in concert halls around the globe."
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Interview With Violinist Miranda Cuckson Violinist Miranda Cuckson speaks about her interest in new music, her artistic collaboration with composer Michael Hersch.
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Reviews

The New York Times The New York Times reviews the Hersch Festival at Spectrum
Sept. 11’s Monumental Despair, Evoked by Solo Piano
September 12, 2016
"Claustrophobic and exhilarating at once, with moments of sublime beauty nestled inside thickets of dark virtuosity, 'Pavilions' is an extraordinary musical experience and a pianistic masterpiece I would unhesitatingly place alongside those of Bach and Liszt."
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Michael Hersch's trenchant music, and Weiss' images, at Crane Arts
November 21, 2016
The Philadelphia Inquirer reviews Zwischen Leben und Tod [Between Life and Death] Hersch's 80' work for violin and piano after images of Peter Weiss
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Miranda Cuckson champions Michael Hersch at Spectrum September 8, 2016
"In place of explicit narrative, the pieces conveyed the sensation of a profound internal experience for which words are inadequate."
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European Premiere of Hersch Violin Concerto Given at Avanti Summer Sounds Festival in Finland Music Review in Helsingin Sanomat
July 4, 2016
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The New York Times Recommends The NYC Premiere of Hersch’s “Zwischen Leben Und Tod” at National Sawdust
June 23, 2016
"Several major works by this composer, whose dark, unsettling music is notable for its vivid contrasts, have been inspired by visual art. The 22 movements of his Zwischen Leben und Tod (Between Life and Death) for violin and piano each correspond to a painting or drawing by Peter Weiss, a 20th-century avant-garde German artist. The pianist Mark Wait and the violinist Carolyn Huebl will perform the work in a multimedia presentation."
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The New York Times Review: A Dark, Haunting Work by Michael Hersch Gets a Premiere
June 12, 2016
"His music is notable for its startling contrasts, with hauntingly beautiful interludes juxtaposed with dissonant outbursts and interwoven with solitary passages tinged with a Renaissance-flavored melancholy."
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“Carrion-Miles To Purgatory: Thirteen Pieces After Texts Of Robert Lowell” Premieres at The Library of Congress
October 18, 2015
"a spare, intense, fiercely inward-turning work ... Hersch opened and continually returned to string sounds that were straight and jagged: long, wheezing harmonics in measured ­paces, like heartbeats or footfalls, tentative and dogged, marshaling their energies at times for violent and slashing blows of bow on string. It’s a piece that’s staking out a territory, each section like a building block, defining a space in conjunction with the other blocks around it, about the relationship between one micro-section and another ... a significant meditation on life and death ..."
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The Baltimore Sun Reviews Hersch’s New Song Cycle A Breath Upwards The Baltimore Sun Reviews Hersch’s New Song Cycle “A Breath Upwards” The Baltimore Sun Reviews Hersch’s New Song Cycle A Breath Upwards
April 24, 2015
By Tim Smith
"The intellectual brilliance involved is startling enough; the addition of expressive intensity can be almost overwhelming ... The most extraordinary and moving passage was the final song, when the dark mood lifted just enough, leading to a long, beautiful melodic arc for the singer in the final line: 'And then we emerged to see the stars again.' The sudden cut-off at the end of that line -- like the way a falling star evaporates in an instant -- was a master stroke."
Full Review

Review: Huebl and Wait Premiere Composer Michael Hersch’s Zwischen Leben und Tod Nashville Scene
February 27, 2015
Reviewing in the Nashville Scene, John Pitcher writes: "In person, the American composer Michael Hersch usually comes across as a gentle soul, an unassuming, soft-spoken, painfully shy man. So people are often surprised when they first hear his daring, ferociously aggressive music. Imagine a tabby cat with a Siberian Tiger’s roar, and you get the idea ... Zwischen Leben und Tod is the second Hersch masterpiece premiered at Vanderbilt in recent years ..."
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Review of the premiere of Last Autumn
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 20, 2009
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Review of the premiere of The Vanishing Pavilions
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 16, 2006
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Hersch Works at the Enescu International Festival "Powerful Contrasts, Volcanic Engergy - The American composer and pianist Michael Hersch, recipient of the American Composers Award and the Rome Prize among others, presented his massive piano cycle 'The Vanishing Pavilions' in Bucharest, Romania. The work is inspired by poems of British poet Christopher Middleton. Hersch's personal style is characterized by powerful contrasts: sometimes fortissimo passages flash with the energy of volcanic eruptions only to be drowned in their own resonance, or he juxtaposes them with lyric sound islands. His insanely difficult ten-part piano concerto of 2010 gave the New York based Romanian pianist Matei Varga the opportunity to deliver a brilliant, highly emotional and virtuosic performance which for forty minutes fascinated those in attendance. Varga played the concerto’s European premiere as soloist with the Filharmonica Banatul Timisoara under the direction of Radu Popa."
Neue Musikzeitung

Gramophone Reviews: Hersch’s “Images From A Closed Ward”
"Commissioned by the Blair String Quartet, who throw themselves into the recording as if not only their life but the composer's as well depended on the relentless intensity of every bar, Michael Hersch's 'Images From a Closed Ward' demonstrates the extreme musical and emotional lengths to which a composer and a string quartet will go these days to maintain a serious relationship. Hersch's grim graphic quartet responding to Michael Mazur's etchings and lithographs of inmates in a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital during the early 1960s lives a separate though equally haunted life from its visual inspiration. It tells no narrative story, only disquieting human agony. Although the music's searing pain and endless despair, desperately trying to escape mortality - which erupts most violently in the 10-minute 11th movement - never really subside, a radiant core seems to emerge in the third of the music's 13 untitled movements. This core leads gradually over time to the possibilities of peace through release and consolation ..."

Hersch’s “Images From A Closed Ward” Reviewed in The New York Times
"Like the series of lithographs and etchings by Michael Mazur that inspired it, this 13-movement string quartet by Michael Hersch is dark and unsettling. And like those black-and-white images of inmates of a mental hospital in the 1960s, Mr. Hersch’s music is beautiful in a timeless, eternal-night sort of way. The fine Blair Quartet brings intensity and suspense to the dense harmonies that move by turns with creeping dread and desperate urgency."
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Recording Reviews

Last Autumn

"Last Autumn is an enormous forty-one movement commentary on, or extension of, W. G. Sebald's prose poem 'After Nature' ... Having had early successes with works for large forces, Hersch has latterly turned to pieces of expansive duration for a small number of musicians of whom the utmost dedication and technical and expressive prowess are required. A pervasive melancholy is present throughout the work, with episodes of shocking violence; the succession of movements coalesces into a large structure, masterfully ebbing and flowing but with an underlying tension that is never absent ... A powerful and disturbing listening experience..."
— Records International
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"Hersch continues to impress as one of the foremost compositional voices of our times ... He manages to construct a long-form chamber work that, like some architectural masterpieces, obscures the structural support, the beams and joists that enable the graceful magnificence of the seen (heard) end result to hold together. There is an immediacy to the music, the expressiveness of beauty and brutality together ..."
— Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music
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Images From a Closed Ward

"Like the series of lithographs and etchings by Michael Mazur that inspired it, this 13-movement string quartet by Michael Hersch is dark and unsettling. And like those black-and-white images of inmates of a mental hospital in the 1960s, Mr. Hersch’s music is beautiful in a timeless, eternal-night sort of way. The fine Blair Quartet brings intensity and suspense to the dense harmonies that move by turns with creeping dread and desperate urgency."
— The New York Times

"Commissioned by the Blair String Quartet, who throw themselves into the recording as if not only their life but the composer's as well depended on the relentless intensity of every bar, Michael Hersch's 'Images From a Closed Ward' demonstrates the extreme musical and emotional lengths to which a composer and a string quartet will go these days to maintain a serious relationship. Hersch's grim graphic quartet responding to Michael Mazur's etchings and lithographs of inmates in a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital during the early 1960s lives a separate though equally haunted life from its visual inspiration. It tells no narrative story, only disquieting human agony. Although the music's searing pain and endless despair, desperately trying to escape mortality - which erupts most violently in the 10-minute 11th movement - never really subside, a radiant core seems to emerge in the third of the music's 13 untitled movements. This core leads gradually over time to the possibilities of peace through release and consolation ..."
— Gramophone Magazine

"... It is the sound of a string quartet playing with rage and inconsolable sadness."
— ArtNowNashville

"... aurally stunning ... Hersch utilizes a refreshing, bracing, and innovative admixture of dissonance and consonance ... Hersch’s music is not “easy listening.” Indeed, it is difficult listening, difficult in the sense that one cannot listen to this work as background music if one’s desire is to tune in to what the composer is attempting to communicate. It is, I assure you, worth the effort for those whose ears are acclimated to the music of our time, and find rewards in music that does not yield all of its secrets in a single audition ... The Blair String Quartet plays with commendable intonation and flair, and produces an amazing array of colors ... Highly recommended for the adventurous."
— Fanfare Magazine

"This is important music ... it is hard to imagine adding anything more around it. It is dissonant, but not abstract by any means. It makes me want to get those people out of there and communicate with them. People need to open their minds to the world. The Blair Quartet plays with conviction and offers such solace as they can. That goes for the music as well. This is sad stuff, but Hersch tries to make it an open door to the rest of life."
— American Record Guide

"...the journey left you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer

"... not a note is wasted. Every note or phrase has its purpose. One of his (Hersch’s) 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

the wreckage of flowers - Works for Violin

"Michael Hersch writes music that can take the tiniest of gestures and within seconds wreak havoc on one's emotional state. The brief Fourteen Pieces for unaccompanied violin on texts of Primo Levi take on images of dread - "dense violent dreams," one line reads ... The sixth movement beginning "I won't go far," sounds like a tentative but graceful reaching -- a trapeze artists with no net stretching an arm out."
— The Newark Star-Ledger (2011)

"In his typically uncompromising manner, composer Michael Hersch collects his violin chamber works - all of which emotionally go for broke but in different ways - onto a single disc, no matter how heavy-going it might initially seem. All three works - Fourteen Piecesthe wreckage of flowers, and Five Fragments - come from a period (2003-2007) when Hersch was writing intense but tiny micromovements. Fourteen Pieces, for example, has 14 movements in 31 minutes. ... Hersch supplies accompanying poetic fragments by Primo Levi and Czeslaw Milosz that give the ear a needed compass in his wintry journeys. ... the performances are completely up to the often-explosive demands of the music ..."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Both the 14 Pieces and The Wreckage of Flowers take the inspiration for their brief, aphoristic movements from fragments of poetry; of Primo Levi in the one case, and Czeslaw Milosz in the other. Both sets of texts share a sense of desolation, and both contain powerful imagery of nature ... Abrupt gestures - some quite tonal, others decidedly not - decay into silent voids; lamenting melodies alternate with violent chordal playing; virtuoso filigree gives way to sombre meditativeness. The result is a highly expressive, quasi-programmatic series of images. The generally more somber Milosz pieces are similarly evocative, with eerie shadings of violin tone, while the piano part interacts with the violin in brusque clusters or in dialogue that can be complementary or confrontational, according to the poetic context. The little Fragments have no accompanying text, but heard in the context of the other works with their evocative vividness, they seem to imply imagery and narrative of their own."
— Records International

Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello

Michael Hersch's Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied cello is one of his earliest published works, written when he was 23, in 1994. The riveting piece, given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford, is included on the first of three discs featuring Mr. Hersch’s solo and chamber music for string instruments, being released by Vanguard Classics. The intensity and communicative power of this sonata, at times an anguished lament, is typical of much of Mr. Hersch’s work, which also includes symphonies, a piano concerto and “The Vanishing Pavilions,” a 2006 work for solo piano lasting more than two hours. The sonata’s profoundly solitary, rhapsodic first movement veers between yearning lyricism and agitated outbursts. The reflective second movement, a showcase for Mr. Gaisford’s rich, penetrating tone and searing musicality, ebbs and flows into the harmonically rich final movement, with its virtuoso challenges and almost brutal intensity. Mr. Gaisford, who, to judge from this recording, deserves greater recognition, also offers a mesmerizing performance of Mr. Hersch’s seven-movement Sonata No. 2, composed in 2000. A similarly dark mood pervades the first movement, which sounds as if several cellos were playing a mournful chorale. Arpeggiated 16th notes in the second movement create multilayered waves of sound, in contrast to the spare, brief third movement, with its urgent six-note motif. The bitter chorale of the opening resurfaces in the terse fourth movement. Mr. Gaisford plays with probing commitment in the passionate fifth movement, a whirlwind of octave leaps and rapidly ascending figurations. The stark staccato motif of the third movement is reprised in the sixth. A poignant chorale pierces the arching finale, which fades to a whisper on a low G.
— The New York Times

"I first became acquainted with Michael Hersch’s music through his monumental solo piano work The Vanishing Pavilions. The pieces recorded here adjust Hersch’s large and large-hearted soundworld to the somewhat more intimate and introverted genre of the unaccompanied sonata for cello. The genre has a long and distinguished history, characterized by big works that show off the expressive range of the instrument (and the player) as well as the virtuosic possibilities almost inherent in solo string playing. Hersch is solidly in that tradition here, with pieces that probe the nature of cello playing in the context of the composer’s very personal post 20th-century neo-modernism. The music is characterized by meditative lyricism or mysticism, punctuated by aggressively angular and rhythmically biting phrases. Daniel Gaisford plays these difficult (in every sense of the word) and supremely rewarding pieces with seemingly limitless technique and a musical personality as strong as Hersch’s. Their collaboration makes for an exciting and provocative musical experience."
— Sequenza21.com

(four stars) "... an intricately constructed world with vast emotional scope."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Vanishing Pavilions

"The evening felt downright historic. [Hersch] conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity. Everything unfolds in open-ended, haiku-like eruptions, though built on ideas that recur throughout the 50 movements, from a lamenting, chantlike melody to passages of such speed and density you'd think the complete works of Franz Liszt were played simultaneously within three minutes. Overtly or covertly, The Vanishing Pavilions is about the destruction of shelter (both in fact and in concept) and life amid the absence of any certainty. And though the music is as deeply troubled as can be, its restless directness also commands listeners not to be paralyzed by existential futility."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (from the premiere performance)

"... he has composed one of the most unusual pieces in memory: The Vanishing Pavilions for piano, a work in two "books," as Hersch describes them, and taking about two hours and twenty minutes to play. Apart from his composing, Hersch is a brilliant pianist, and there could be no better advocate of his own music. ... the work is barely fathomable: reflecting terror, agony, wonder. I hesitate to describe it. It seems both intensely personal and universal. It is ferocious, desperate, manic; titanic, daunting, world-containing; visionary, apocalyptic, inexorable. You sometimes want to look away from it; it can be terrible to contemplate. And yet you still heed it. You sense that the piece is both reacting to this world and striving for something beyond. I intend to live with The Vanishing Pavilions for a while longer. It has gotten under my skin, as it must; it has even disturbed my sleep. A first hearing takes a considerable amount of time, especially given the lives so many of us now lead. But one hearing is plainly insufficient. Michael Hersch has something to say, and he bears listening to."
— National Review (2007)

"Your deepest fears and most monumental anger seem to aired and examined -- in music that's an artistic expression of the highest sophistication, and never more so than in The Vanishing Pavilions. ... perhaps the most imposing work yet in an output that began imposingly more than a decade ago ..."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2007)

"This is music of raw, elemental gravity, which proceeds at its own unhurried pace. The music of each movement has an immediate, visceral impact; it sounds like it springs from, and speaks to, some deep, primordial place, unmediated by any system or even the niceties of compositional correctness. The variety that Hersch's tonal and gestural palette brings to each movement, as well as the music's restless, unpredictable rhythmic energy, commands the listener's attention. Hersch's performance is stunning in its vitality and virtuosity."
— allmusic.com

"Hersch's daring and personal musical language displays a magnificent spectrum of colors and textures right from the start. Concentrated listening is a necessity for the audience and since this is a work of such gigantic proportions, it is no journey for the weak-minded. The composer performs his own work on this release and does so with outstanding commitment and virtuosity, which only adds to the qualities of this fascinating recording."
— Muso Magazine

"This is an absolutely huge work that, despite its size, steadfastly refuses to sprawl.  There is an urgency and terseness to Michael Hersch's writing that retains interest from first to last.  The technical demands are vast.  This is disquieting music, to be sure.  It holds its spell not because it offers windows of hope but because it forces us to examine ourselves as we are now."
— Fanfare Magazine

"His pianistic technique is seemingly limitless and his expressive resources vast."
— sequenza21.com (2008)

Michael Hersch: Chamber Music

"The disc, titled "Michael Hersch: Chamber Music," features Hersch himself on piano as well as string soloists from the Berlin Philharmonic. The disc's highlight is probably a vast octet for strings in 11 movements that lasts half an hour and seems an encyclopedic exploration of deepest darkness, shot through with anxious energy. A "Recordatio" for solo piano was inspired by the death of Luciano Berio, one of many diverse and extraordinary older composers (George Rochberg and Hans Werner Henze are two others) who have recognized and encouraged Hersch's melancholy genius. These are remarkably original and assured pieces -- best of all, Hersch, still in his early thirties, may just be getting started."
— The Washington Post (2004)

"... austere and uncompromising. What attracts the ear, and keeps it engaged, is Hersch’s acute ear for harmony. This manifests itself not only in the colours of the sounds themselves – but also in the way that glimmers of tonality emerge at key locations in a largely atonal landscape. But, then, Hersch clearly has an innate dramatic sensibility. His Octet is spread over 11 distinctly characterised movements (and at 31 minutes the largest work here), yet how inexorably it moves. The climax is placed in the 10th movement (and, interestingly, the dramatic shape of this movement appears to be a condensation of the work’s larger structure), while the final movement (a reprise of the second) serves as an anguished, angry and strangely familiar sounding epitaph. The effect is devastating."
— Gramophone Magazine

“With Hersch, you hear a sincere, emotionally raw voice with every utterance – often a harrowing experience. ... urgent, commanding, able to communicate without shouting and without cliche.”
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This is a powerful, engaging, and most auspicious debut.”
— Strings Magazine

Hersch – Josquin – Rihm – Feldman

"... a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself."
— Tim Page (The Washington Post)

"He plays his own spare transcriptions of works by 15th century master Josquin des Prés, as well as Morton Feldman’s chilly “Piano Piece (for Philip Guston)”, the moody silences and sometimes gauzy, sometimes jangly textures of which he articulates with imposing power. In Wolfgang Rihm’s “Auf einem anderen Blatt”, Hersch’s palette ranges from diaphanous, petal-soft tones to startlingly metallic stabs. Of greatest interest are Hersch’s “Milosz Fragments”, inspired by the Nobel laureate’s poems and based on the composer’s 2003 work, the wreckage of flowers, and his Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Cello. Daniel Gaisford brings the latter to life with astonishing virtuosity and a haunted lyricism ideally suited to Hersch’s somber muse. “Milosz Fragments” finds Hersch at his most tortured, traversing landscapes of uncompromising bleakness. An immensely rewarding disc."
— Time Out NY

“Hersch’s compositions, frequently singled out for their dark emotional intensity, should not be misconstrued as gothically despairing; more accurately, they fall in line with the stark spiritual introspection of Ingmar Bergman’s landmark films. ... this collection strikes a remarkable balance. Nothing feels forced to fit here, and it is to Hersch’s credit that his own works stand so strongly among such talented company. Excepting the cello sonata performed by Daniel Gaisford, Hersch himself is at the piano throughout. Both men perform with a palpable intensity... If one had to guess just by listening, Hersch did more than program this recording for commercial effect. Rather it’s as if he is writing a profoundly personal letter to the listener in which he shares much of both his intellectual and emotional self.”
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Hersch is known as one of the world’s leading young composers. This stark, introspective program, ranging from transcriptions of fifteenth-century giant Josquin des Prés to Hersch’s own Milosz Fragments, highlights his equally remarkable gifts as a pianist.”
— New York Newsday – Best of Year 2004

Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Fracta, Arraché

"... a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself."
— Tim Page (The Washington Post)

"These performances confirm Michael Hersch (b.1971) as one of the most seriously engaging musical voices in the U.S. today. The Second Symphony marries a volcanic New World energy to a deeply skeptical, often angst-ridden spiritual climate. Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are brilliant advocates."
— Andrew Clark (The Financial Times, UK)

"(4 stars) Three years separate Michael Hersch's First and Second Symphonies. The first, composed in 1998, is hauntingly beautiful, densely textured with an inexorable sense of the organic. The second displays a rather more searching and adventurous style, where dramatic extremes and a more intense astringency are its lifeblood. There's an alluring boldness about this young American's music, which is noticeable too in Fracta and Arraché, both contained in this big-scale survey by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop."
— The Scotsman

"For many young composers, early works tend to project a youthful sense of innocence and discovery. Composer Michael Hersch, however, seems to have entered adulthood painfully aware of the darker ways of the world - heard in this first disc of his orchestral works in no uncertain terms. Though frequently characterized as a descendant of Mahler and Berg, Hersch's music is more aptly compared to the sinister sound collages of Alfred Schnittke. But even with the distinctly American vigor of imagination Hersch stands pretty much alone in this country in terms of his confrontational musical idiom. That might have been a minus to some 1990s audiences, but now seems to define our time. His dissonances were always fascinating; now they're oddly comforting. The Symphony No. 2 and Arraché in particular stand up well among Hersch's recent work, especially in these compelling, comprehending performances. In fact, this may be conductor Marin Alsop's best recording yet."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer

"(Hersch) has made several recordings as a pianist, and a solo disc devoted to his keyboard and chamber music came out of Germany. Now, Naxos gives us a full-scale introduction to his orchestral music, and it's impressive. In contrast to the minimalism that has occupied so much of the classical landscape during the last 30 years, and in contrast to neo-romantics, Mr. Hersch comes off as an unapologetic modernist. His pieces don't really sound much like the Second Viennese School (Berg, Schoenberg), but they're not afraid of dissonance. They're not really reminiscent of the big American symphonies of the middle 20th century, either. They feel less nationalist than William Schuman's, less esoteric than Roger Sessions'. But they share those composers' sense of scale and drama. The younger composer loves big gestures played off against solo laments. He favors the orchestra's lowest voices: tuba, cello and double bass, big bass drum. Notice the chimes that ring in the Symphony No.1. They immediately announce that something epic is happening. ... this music rewards repeated listening. The performances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop are all you could wish for."
— The Dallas Morning News

"The Second Symphony leads off the disc. Cast in four movements, the last three played without pause, this nineteen-minute work begins as a violent, nightmarish torrent, then subsides to an unsettling calm. There are further outbursts and contrasting sections of calm throughout the symphony, but above the proceedings lingers a sense of anger and darkness. In the end, one assesses the work as a profound outpouring inspired by some tragedy. The insightful notes, by Andrew Druckenbrod, mention that the symphony was written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, but that Hersch has acknowledged no connection to it here. Much in the notes is also made of Hersch's use of clusters in his orchestration and soundscape, but suffice it to say here that this unusual work, with its deftly-imagined, contrapuntal third movement (at six-and-a-half minutes, the longest of the four), will challenge many with its dense orchestration, high levels of dissonance and austere character, but will yield the patient listener many aural rewards ... his orchestration is imaginative and absolutely assured, and his grasp of contrapuntal writing is masterful."
— classical.net (2007)