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Three-Day Hersch Festival at New York’s Spectrum Launches Full Season for Composer Michael Hersch

For composer Michael Hersch, the winner of both the Rome and Berlin prizes and one of the youngest Guggenheim fellows to date, the 2016-17 season launches at New York’s Spectrum, which celebrates his artistry with a three-day Hersch Festival. Presenting music spanning the past 15 years, crowned by a world premiere and two New York premieres, this dedicated retrospective features performances by some of Hersch’s most trusted interpreters, as well as a rare concert appearance by the composer himself on piano (Sep 7–11). The coming season also brings world premieres in Rotterdam, Holland (Dec 7) and Naples, FL (Jan 15), where the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra debuts his new large-ensemble piece End Stages before taking it to Carnegie Hall (Feb 4); European and UK premieres in Berlin (Feb 19) and London (Nov 8); the Philadelphia premiere of Zwischen Leben und Tod (Nov 20); and the film release of On the Threshold of Winter, 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.

Three-day Hersch Festival at Spectrum in NYC (Sep 7–11)

Spectrum’s Hersch Festival opens with a program of music for violin and cello (Sep 7). Its centerpiece is the world premiere of the weather and landscape are on our side for unaccompanied violin, after texts of Bruno Schulz (2016), performed by its dedicatee, Miranda Cuckson, who is one of the leading exponents of Hersch’s music. It was her account of his 14 Pieces that prompted the New York Times to declare: “Ms. Cuckson was in her element here. It would be hard to imagine this music played more vividly.” The evening also features the New York premiere of Hersch’s large-scale duo for violin and cello – Carrion-Miles to Purgatory after texts of Robert Lowell (2014), which was heralded at its Library of Congress premiere as “a spare, intense, fiercely inward-turning work” (Washington Post) – for which Cuckson will be joined by fellow new-music expert Mariel Roberts, on cello.

The following night (Sep 8), Spectrum presents Cuckson and cellist Sophie Shao in Hersch’s After Hölderlin’s “Hälfte des Lebens” for viola and cello (2001), written in the wake of 9/11. Gary Louie reprises his celebrated account of of ages manifest (2010), Hersch’s formidable work for unaccompanied alto saxophone, which the Baltimore Sun has called “a riveting kind of sound-poem that the soloist, Gary Louie, communicated with stunning technical brilliance and expressive power.” Soprano Ah Young Hong and horn player Michael Atkinson join forces for the New York premiere of the composer’s most recent song cycle, a tower in air after texts by the late Christopher Middleton (2015), and Hersch himself – praised by the Philadephia Inquirer for his “astonishing virtuosity” at the piano – makes a rare concert appearance to perform his Lullabies (2011).

The festival’s closing concert (Sep 11) marks just the third complete live rendition of his 150-minute masterpiece for solo piano, The Vanishing Pavilions, Books 1 and 2 (2005). As the National Review writes:

“[The Vanishing Pavilions] 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. … Michael Hersch has something to say, and he bears listening to.”

It will be played by Jacob Rhodebeck, the only pianist to have undertaken Hersch’s monumental cycle other than the composer himself, and the performance will take place almost ten years to the day after Hersch gave its world premiere in 2006.

New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and world premieres

The festival inaugurates a season that brings many high-profile presentations of Hersch’s music. At Carnegie Hall, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra gives the New York premiere of his new tone poem, End Stages (2016), in which he reflects on sketches by artist Kevin Tuttle as he processes the impacts of physical illness and mortality (Feb 4).

Spring brings the release of Hersch’s harrowing monodrama, On the Threshold of Winter (2014). Directed by James Matthew Daniel, the film captures the production of the opera in Baltimore, where it was hailed as “a work of great originality, daring, and disturbing power” (Baltimore Sun). It stars soprano Ah Young Hong, who also premiered the work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014, when she was praised for her “soul-baring, courageous performance” (New York Times).

The same soprano joins Ensemble Klang at Rotterdam’s De Doelen for the world premiere of cortex and ankle: songs after texts of Christopher Middleton (2016), in which Hersch pays tribute to the late British poet (Dec 7).

And violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait reprise their celebrated account of Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss (2013) in a full multimedia presentation at Philadelphia’s Crane Arts (Nov 20). The 90-minute work comprises 22 movements, each corresponding to one of Weiss’s paintings or drawings, as projected onto a large screen above the stage. At its Nashville premiere, the Nashville Scene marveled:

“Hersch’s music … captured the emotions of these works with uncanny accuracy. … Huebl and Wait confronted this music head on, leaving none of the work’s darkly disturbing emotional stones unturned. … They played every note with power, precision and emotional conviction.”

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.


Michael Hersch: 2016-17 season

Sep 7 – 11
New York, NY
Michael Hersch Festival

Sep 7
in the snowy margins for unaccompanied violin (2010)
Carrion-Miles to Purgatory for violin and cello after texts of Robert Lowell (2014; NY premiere)
the weather and landscape are on our side for unaccompanied violin after texts of Bruno Schulz (2016; world premiere)
(With Miranda Cuckson, violin; Mariel Roberts, cello)

Sep 8
After Hölderlin’s “Hälfte des Lebens” for viola and cello (2001)
of ages manifest for unaccompanied alto saxophone (2010)
Lullabies for piano (2011)
a tower in air: songs after texts of Christopher Middleton for soprano and horn (2015;
NY premiere)
(With Miranda Cuckson, viola; Sophie Shao, cello; Gary Louie, saxophone; Michael Hersch, piano; Ah Young Hong, soprano; Michael Atkinson, horn)

Sep 11
The Vanishing Pavilions for piano, Books 1 & 2 (2005)
(With Jacob Rhodebeck, piano)

Nov 4
Baltimore, MD
Music at St. David’s
Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for unaccompanied cello
From Ecclesiastes (world premiere)
(With Lavena Johanson, cello; Canticum Novum / Douglas Buchanan)

Nov 8
London, UK
Sixth London Festival of American Music
Variations on a Poem (UK premiere)
(With Fidelio Trio)

Nov 20
Philadelphia, PA
Crane Arts
Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss (multimedia presentation; Philadelphia premiere)
(With Carolyn Huebl, violin; Mark Wait, piano)

Dec 7
Rotterdam, Holland
De Doelen
cortex and ankle: songs after texts of Christopher Middleton (world premiere)
(With Ah Young Hong, soprano; Ensemble Klang)

Jan 15
Naples, FL
End Stages (world premiere)
(With Orpheus Chamber Orchestra)

Feb 4
New York, NY
Carnegie Hall
End Stages (New York premiere)
(With Orpheus Chamber Orchestra)

Feb 12
Baltimore, MD
Community Concerts at Second
After Hölderlin’s Hälfte des Lebens
(With Peter Minkler, viola; Kristin Ostling, cello)

Feb 19
Berlin, Germany
Konzerthaus Berlin
After Hölderlin’s Hälfte des Lebens
a breath upwards for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola (European premiere)
(With Ensemble United Berlin)

Spring 2017
Film release of On the Threshold of Winter
Directed by James Matthew Daniel
Ah Young Hong, soprano
Tito Muñoz, conductor
UNC Ensemble – Miranda Cuckson, artistic director
Kevin Tuttle, set design
Douglas Nelson, lighting

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© 21C Media Group, September 2016

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