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Michael Hersch’s first string quartet gets NY premiere April 5

After a successful February world premiere of Michael Hersch’s first string quartet, Images from a Closed Ward, by the Blair String Quartet – and a performance of the piece in Philadelphia on April 1 – Hersch and the ensemble reprise the piece for its New York premiere at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall on April 5. ArtNowNashville called the debut performance “a wonderful premiere,” describing the new composition as “an expansive 45-minute work of searing energy and emotion” that “defies expectations.” 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.”
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 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 following 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 Symphonies 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
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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© 21C Media Group, April 2012

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