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Dedicated Retrospective, High-Profile Premieres, and New Recordings for Composer Michael Hersch

With a dedicated retrospective, multiple recordings, and high-profile premieres on both sides of the Atlantic, the coming season marks a major career milestone for Michael Hersch, “a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself” (Washington Post). The winner of both the Rome and Berlin prizes and one of the youngest Guggenheim fellows to date, the composer is the subject of “American Visionary,” a Utah festival that celebrates his artistry with presentations of three evening-length works – The Vanishing Pavilions, Last Autumn, and On the Threshold of Winter – and more (Jan 29–Feb 1). On the Threshold of Winter also receives its Chicago premiere in the New Year (Jan 18 & 20), while, as a pianist of “astounding facility” (International Piano), it is Hersch himself who gives the European premiere of The Vanishing Pavilions, Book 1 (Oct 14). Fall also brings world premieres from violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, at New York’s Park Avenue Armory (Oct 9 & 10) and the Lucerne Festival (Sep 2); and from the Alban Berg Ensemble Wien, in Vienna’s Musikverein (Nov 13). New York and Boston premieres follow next spring (April 20 & May 14), while summer sees Hersch honored as the featured composer of the Ojai Festival, with the world premiere of a new commission that then travels to Berkeley and England’s Aldeburgh Festival (June 8–22). The release of world premiere recordings on both the Ensemble Klang Records (Sep 1) and Innova Records (Jan TBA) labels completes the composer’s landmark 2017-18 season.

Hersch comments,

“I have been startled and moved by the performances scheduled for this season. Many of these pieces are ones I had little expectation of being programmed due to their length, technical challenges, and subject matter. Performers such as Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Miranda Cuckson, Ah Young Hong, and Ensemble Klang, artists with whom I have been fortunate enough to have years-long relationships, are those that I have the greatest admiration for and have served as tremendous inspirations to me. Having the opportunity to work this year for the first time with organizations such as Ojai, Aldeburgh, Dal Niente, and the Alban Berg Ensemble Wien, is something by which I am deeply humbled.”

NOVA presents “American Visionary: A Festival Celebrating the Music of Michael Hersch”

Last year, when New York’s Spectrum paid tribute to Hersch with a three-concert festival, the New York Times was struck by the “generosity and empathy” underpinning his work. This season, during his tenure as Maurice Abravanel Distinguished Visiting Composer at the University of Utah School of Music, he will be recognized once again, when Salt Lake City’s NOVA Chamber Music Series joins forces with other local arts organizations to present “American Visionary: A Festival Celebrating the Music of Michael Hersch.”

This dedicated festival comprises four events, kicking off with an opportunity to meet the composer, who will be in attendance to introduce performances of several of his shorter works (Jan 29). The following day, in partnership with the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, NOVA Artistic Director Jason Hardink plays The Vanishing Pavilions (2005), Hersch’s monumental 150-minute work for solo piano, which the National Review calls “visionary, apocalyptic, inexorable,” and the New York Times considers “an extraordinary musical experience and a pianistic masterpiece I would unhesitatingly place alongside those of Bach and Liszt” (Jan 30).

Next, in a co-presentation with Canyonlands New Music Ensemble, Utah Symphony Acting Principal Horn Edmund Rollett and cellist Noriko Kishi play Last Autumn (2008). Another of Hersch’s evening-length compositions, which he considers “the sister work to The Vanishing Pavilions,” this impressed the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “portrait of something too huge and undefinable, glorious and terrible, to be seen in anything more than glimpses” (Jan 31).

Finally, in a co-presentation with Utah Opera, the festival concludes with On the Threshold of Winter (2012), the harrowing two-act monodrama that prompted the New Yorker to observe: “Hersch, now in his second decade as one of the most prominent composers in the country, writes masterly modernist music of implacable seriousness.” Having anchored the chamber opera’s world and New York premieres, soprano Ah Young Hong and Phoenix Symphony Music Director Tito Muñoz reunite, she to reprise the role in which she proved herself its “blazing, lone star” (New York Times), and he to resume his “sensitive and meticulous” (New York Times) leadership, this time of an outstanding ensemble of Utah musicians (Feb 1).

Premieres in New York, Chicago, Ojai, Lucerne, The Hague, Aldeburgh, and Vienna

The season brings prominent premieres of a number of major works. Gramophone Award-winner Patricia Kopatchinskaja – “the wild child of the violin” (The Telegraph, UK) – has become one of Hersch’s most trusted interpreters since discovering his music on YouTube. As she told Strings magazine, she considers him “one of [contemporary music’s] most urgent and compelling voices, … because he faces our pain with urgency, honesty and dignity.” This fall, the violinist joins cellist Jay Campbell at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory for the world premiere of ... das Rückgrat berstend, on a program that showcases extreme styles of music-making by composers from Gibbons to Xenakis (Oct 9 & 10).

The new duo for violin/speaker and cello is one of several works Kopatchinskaja has commissioned from Hersch. The first was his Violin Concerto (2015), of which she premieres a new version – now featuring his revised opening movement – at this year’s Lucerne Festival (Sep 2). She also heads into the studio with the International Contemporary Ensemble to record both works, together with in the snowy margins, for future release. Meanwhile violinist Miranda Cuckson, another leading exponent of Hersch’s music, gives the concerto’s New York premiere with Ensemble Échappé under Jeffrey Milarsky at Lex54 concerts (April 20). To hear Hersch and Kopatchinskaja discuss his Violin Concerto, click here.

Having “conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity” in a 2006 world premiere performance of The Vanishing Pavilions that “felt downright historic” (Philadelphia Inquirer), Hersch gives the first European performance of Book 1 – its opening half – in The Hague, Holland (Oct 14).

Originally scored for orchestra, the new chamber version of Variations on a Theme of Hugo Wolf receives its world premiere at Vienna’s storied Musikverein, courtesy of the recently formed Alban Berg Ensemble Wien (a new seven-piece group incorporating the award-winning Hugo Wolf Quartet), which commissioned it (Nov 13).

Representing the first performance of Hersch’s work in the city to date, the Ecce Ensemble gives the Boston premiere of Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss (2013) at the Athenaeum (May 14). A 90-minute work comprising 22 movements, each corresponding to one of Weiss’s paintings or drawings, the piece impressed the Philadelphia Inquirer as “trenchant … searing.” Nashville Scene marveled: “Hersch’s music … captured the emotions of these works with uncanny accuracy.

Ah Young Hong revisits On the Threshold of Winter in a new production with Ensemble Dal Niente that marks the opera’s Chicago premiere (Jan 18 & 20). Inspired in part by his own experiences, Hersch adapted his original libretto from The Bridge, the unsparing final poetry collection of Romanian author Marin Sorescu (1936-96), who wrote it during the last weeks of his own unsuccessful battle with cancer.

Hersch’s work remains in the spotlight next summer, when he has been chosen to serve as featured composer of California’s Ojai Music Festival. The festival will mount the world premiere of a cantata for two sopranos and nine instrumentalists (June 8) that will then be reprised at Cal Performances’ “Ojai at Berkeley” (June 15) and England’s Aldeburgh Festival, where it will receive its European premiere (June 22). Setting fragments from the final writings of two women over the course of their struggles with terminal illness, the new cantata is a sister work to On the Threshold of Winter. It was co-commissioned by the three presenters in collaboration with PN Review, the leading British poetry magazine of which Hersch is the inaugural artist-in-residence.

World premiere recordings in September and January

In addition to these live premieres, Hersch looks forward to expanding his already impressive discography with two new titles. September 1 brings the release of Black Untitled: The Music of Michael Hersch on Ensemble Klang Records, comprising the world premiere recordings of two works commissioned by Dutch contemporary music group Ensemble Klang: his trombone concerto, Black Untitled (2013), and cortex and ankle (2016) for soprano and orchestra.

A second world premiere recording follows in late January, with the release of Music of Milton Babbitt and Michael Hersch on Innova Records. This features a breath upwards (2014) as performed by Ah Young Hong with Miranda Cuckson on viola, clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich, and French horn player Jamie Hersch, the composer’s brother, who first introduced him to classical music. It was the same ensemble that gave the work’s world premiere performance, when the Baltimore Sun observed:

“Hersch’s uncompromisingly complex style invariably delivers a fresh jolt. The intellectual brilliance involved is startling enough; the addition of expressive intensity can be almost overwhelming. … Mesmerizing.”

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

Michael Hersch: highlights of 2017-18 season

Sep 1

Release of Black Untitled: The Music of Michael Hersch on Ensemble Klang Records

World premiere recordings of works commissioned by Ensemble Klang

Sep 2

Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne Festival

Violin Concerto with revised first movement (world premiere)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin

Oct 9 & 10

New York, NY

Park Avenue Armory

… das Rückgrat berstend for violin/speaker and cello (world premiere of new Kopatchinskaja commission)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin

Jay Campbell, cello

Oct 14

The Hague, Netherlands

Festival Dag in de Branding

The Vanishing Pavilions, Book I (European premiere)

Michael Hersch, piano

Nov 13

Vienna, Austria


Alban Berg Ensemble Wien

Variations on a Theme of Hugo Wolf, chamber version (world premiere of new Alban Berg Ensemble Wien commission)

Jan 18 & 20

Chicago, IL

On the Threshold of Winter (Chicago premiere; new production)

Ah Young Hong, soprano

Ensemble Dal Niente

Late Jan, tba

Release of Music of Milton Babbitt and Michael Hersch on Innova Records

Featuring world premiere recording of a breath upwards (with Ah Young Hong, soprano; Miranda Cuckson, viola; Gleb Kanasevich, clarinet; Jamie Hersch, horn)

Jan 29–Feb 1

Salt Lake City, UT

Nova Chamber Music Series

“American Visionary”: A Festival Celebrating the Music of Michael Hersch

   Jan 29: “Meet the Composer”

 Jan 30: The Vanishing Pavilions (with Jason Hardink, piano)

Jan 31: Last Autumn (with Edmund Rollett, horn; Noriko Kishi, cello)

Feb 1: On the Threshold of Winter, co-presented by NOVA and Utah Opera (with Ah Young Hong, soprano; Tito Muñoz, conductor)

April 20

New York, NY

Lex54 concerts

Violin Concerto (New York premiere)

Miranda Cuckson, violin

Ensemble Échappé / Jeffrey Milarsky

May 14

Boston, MA


Zwischen Leben und Tod (Boston premiere)

Ecce Ensemble

June 8, 15, 22

Ojai, CA; Berkeley, CA; Aldeburgh, UK

Ojai Music Festival

Featured Composer: Michael Hersch

Dramatic cantata (world premiere of new Ojai Music Festival, Aldeburgh Music Festival, PN Review, and Cal Performances co-commission)

June 8: Ojai at Ojai

June 15: Ojai at Berkeley (Cal Performances)

June 22: Ojai at Aldeburgh (European premiere)

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© 21C Media Group, August 2017

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