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Michael Hersch’s Last Autumn for sax and cello premieres in NYC

Michael Hersch conceived of his most recent epic chamber work, Last Autumn, in two distinct incarnations: for horn and cello, and for alto saxophone and cello, respectively.  When the first of these received its world premiere, it generated high critical esteem and “long vigorous applause.”  Now New Yorkers have the chance to witness the world premiere of the second – Last Autumn for saxophone and cello, Books 1 & 2 (2008) – at Merkin Concert Hall on Saturday, February 27 at 8pm.  Performing the monumental work, which runs to almost three hours, is internationally recognized saxophonist Gary Louie, who co-commissioned it, with veteran Hersch specialist Daniel Gaisford, for whom the cello part was written.

Last Autumn is the second in a cycle of three large-scale works begun by Hersch in 2001, the first being The Vanishing Pavilions (2005), an evening-length work for solo piano that is divided, like Last Autumn, into two separate books.  The composer comments: “Last Autumn…is the sister work to The Vanishing Pavilions.  Like The Vanishing Pavilions, it is intended to be an entire concert program. … Completed in 2008, the work is built around poetic fragments of the late W.G. Sebald.”

In fact, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns, who attended the October premiere for horn and cello:

“As great as [The Vanishing Pavilions] is, Last Autumn eclipses it.  In the airier, more distilled Autumn, whose emotional riches defy the harmonic limitations of the instruments, the music exploits the instruments in every imaginable way. …Idea and sound were inextricably one, and more viscerally exciting for it. … Long, vigorous applause indicated that Hersch’s more personal and demanding works are no longer appreciated by only a few.”

After learning about Hersch’s Last Autumn, virtuoso saxophonist Gary Louie immediately approached the composer about the possibility of commissioning a version for saxophone and cello.  Hersch substantially reworked the original score, essentially rewriting the work for this remarkable but vastly underutilized instrument and one of its finest contemporary players.  Hersch explains, “The possibility of making two versions of a work for two extraordinary instrumentalists, for two vastly different instruments – both of which in the right hands are capable of a remarkable range of unique expressive possibilities – was something I had never done before and was in this instance of great interest to me.”

An avid supporter and interpreter of contemporary music, award-winning saxophone virtuoso Gary Louie is actively involved in the commissioning and performing of new scores for the instrument.  He has performed and premiered new works by many distinguished composers, including Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Ned Rorem, and Gunther Schuller.  Cellist Daniel Gaisford, whom the New York Times pronounced “transfixing”, premiered and recorded both of Michael Hersch’s Sonatas for Unaccompanied Cello, the second of which was dedicated to him, besides premiering the first version of Last Autumn for horn and cello.

The world premiere of the complete version for alto saxophone and cello takes place at New York’s intimate Merkin Concert Hall under the auspices of the Transit Circle contemporary concert series.  Tickets at $20 ($15 for students and seniors) are available by calling (212) 501-3330.


Saturday, February 27 at 8pm
Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street, New York, NY
Transit Circle concert series
Last Autumn for alto saxophone and cello, Books 1 & 2 (world premiere)
(Commissioned by the Washington Performing Arts Society and Gary Louie)
Gary Louie, saxophone
Daniel Gaisford, cello

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© 21C Media Group, January 2010

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