Press Room

Michael Hersch: spring premieres

Composer Michael Hersch is enjoying a number of major premieres this spring. February saw the world premiere of his first string quartet, Images from a Closed Ward, by the Blair String Quartet. Describing the new composition as “an expansive 45-minute work of searing energy and emotion” that “defies expectations,” ArtNowNashville considered the performance “a wonderful premiere.” On April 5, the ensemble reprises the piece for its New York premiere at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. This follows two important debuts on March 15 and 17, when the Cleveland Orchestra presents the world premiere of Hersch’s trumpet concerto, Night Pieces, preceded by the world premiere of Two Lullabies, his new work for solo piano, performed by the composer himself. And another significant addition to Hersch’s oeuvre debuts on May 18, when award-winning pianist Shai Wosner gives the world premiere of Hersch’s second piano concerto, along the ravines, with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz.
Inspired by Michael Mazur’s etchings of scenes from asylums in the 1960s, Images from a Closed Ward has expressive indications ranging from “longing, quiet” to “raging violently throughout.” Blair String Quartet violinist Connie Heard explains, “It was a very intense experience to read it the first time and say, ‘Wow, how are we going to do this?’” Blair cellist, Felix Wang, adds, “When you hear this piece, it’s not going to be something a string quartet would sound like. The voice that you hear in his music is original.”
In a preview of the new work, ArtNowNashville echoed this conviction:
“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.”
Similarly, in its overwhelmingly positive review of the subsequent Nashville premiere, the news source marveled:
Images from a Closed Ward defies expectations. … It’s also a sound that is bright, brittle and cold, like a frozen landscape – or like an artificially lit hospital ward. The glacial pace of the harmonic progressions (this is a piece that unfolds slowly over time) enhances one’s sense of desperately lonely isolation. … There was nothing crass, literal or predictable in his score. Still, his music was so vivid that one couldn’t help conjuring storyboard images in the mind.”
As for the Blair players, they “gave this challenging music a wonderful premiere. Throughout the performance, they were intensely in the moment, playing with precision and emotion. … No doubt, the Blair Quartet will enjoy considerable success when they play Images from a Closed Ward in Philadelphia and New York City’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in April.”
The Cleveland Orchestra’s world premiere performances of Hersch’s trumpet concerto, Night Pieces, feature the orchestra’s principal trumpeter, Michael Sachs, as soloist, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero, musical director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, at Cleveland’s Severance Hall. Before each performance of Night Pieces, the composer himself will give a pre-concert solo piano recital, presenting the world premiere of his Two Lullabies alongside selections from his 2005 work, The Vanishing Pavilions, on the hall’s storied Rheinberger Chamber Music Stage.
Hersch’s new 40-minute, ten-movement piano concerto, along the ravines, was commissioned by pianist Shai Wosner and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, and inspired by texts of the late Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. The Seattle Symphony premiere comes almost exactly a decade after Hersch’s first piano concerto premiered in 2002 with Garrick Ohlsson and the Saint Louis Symphony.
Michael Hersch
Widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation, Michael Hersch continues to write music of tremendous power and invention. Writing in The Washington Post more than a decade ago, critic Tim Page heralded the arrival on the international stage of “a Promethean creator who has been charged with relaying his particular message. He combines a mixture of urgency and facility that is dazzling.”
Born in 1971 in Washington, D.C., Hersch first came to international attention at age 25, when he was awarded first prize in the American Composers Awards. The award resulted in a performance of his Elegy, conducted by Marin Alsop in New York’s Alice Tully Hall in 1997. One of the youngest recipients ever of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition, has also received the Rome Prize and the Berlin Prize. He studied at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, with additional studies at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia. He currently heads the Department of Composition at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
Highlights of Hersch’s composing career include his Symphony No. 2, commissioned by Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His first Piano Concerto, commissioned by Garrick Ohlsson and the orchestras of St. Louis, Oregon and Pittsburgh, was premiered in 2002. His work for violin and piano, the wreckage of flowers, which was commissioned by Midori, was given performances by the violinist and pianist Robert McDonald in Lisbon, London and New York during 2004. Arraché, commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the opening of its new concert hall, was premiered in 2005. The next year, in Philadelphia, the composer gave the world premiere of his landmark two-hour work for solo piano, The Vanishing Pavilions.
Vanguard Classics has embarked on a three-volume survey of Hersch’s complete music for solo strings. This project comes after the acclaimed 2007 release of The Vanishing Pavilions, with the composer at the piano. His second disc for the label, featuring the composer performing his own works in addition to those of Feldman, Rihm and Josquin, was selected by The Washington Post and Newsday as among the most important recordings of 2004-05. In 2006, a recording of Hersch’s orchestral works, including his Symphony Nos. 1 and 2, was released in the Naxos American Classics series, with Marin Alsop conducting the Bournemouth Symphony.
Hersch’s mentor, the late composer George Rochberg, called the younger composer “a rare and unique talent…. His music sounds the dark places of the human heart and soul. The inherent drama of his work is remarkable for being completely unselfconscious, unstudied and powerful in its projection, convinced and convincing.”
Michael Hersch – upcoming premieres
March 15 and 17
Cleveland, OH: Severance Hall
Two Lullabies for solo piano (world premiere)
Selections from The Vanishing Pavilions for solo piano
Michael Hersch, piano
Night Pieces for trumpet and orchestra (world premiere)
Michael Sachs, trumpet; Cleveland Orchestra; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
April 1
Philadelphia, PA: Havertown New Music and Art Series
Images from a Closed Ward for string quartet
Blair String Quartet
April 5
New York, NY: Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall
Images from a Closed Ward for string quartet (New York premiere)
Blair String Quartet
May 18
Seattle, WA: Benaroya Hall
along the ravines for piano and orchestra (world premiere)
Shai Wosner, piano; Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, conductor
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