Biography

“... one of the most fertile musical minds to emerge in the U.S. over the past generation.”
— Andrew Clark, The Financial Times of London
Widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation, Michael Hersch’s work has been performed in the U.S. and abroad under conductors including Mariss Jansons, Alan Gilbert, Marin Alsop, Robert Spano, Carlos Kalmar, Yuri Temirkanov, Giancarlo Guerrero, and James DePreist; with the major orchestras of Cleveland, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Oregon, among others; and ensembles including the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Kreutzer Quartet, the Blair String Quartet, and the Network for New Music Ensemble. He has written for such soloists as Thomas Hampson, Midori, Garrick Ohlsson, Boris Pergamenschikow, Shai Wosner, Walter Boeykens, Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Michael Sachs, and Daniel Gaisford. Writing recently in The Baltimore Sun, Tim Smith described Hersch’s work as, “music of astounding, even thrilling, complexity; music that can be hard to grasp, yet impossible to let go of; and music of stark, unsettling, seemingly implausible beauty.”

His solo and chamber works have appeared on programs throughout the world - from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in the U.S. to Germany’s Schloss Neuhardenberg Festival in Brandenberg and the Philharmonie in Berlin; from the U.K.’s Dartington New Music Festival and British Museum to Italy’s Romaeuropa and Nuova Consonanza Festivals. Performances in the far east include those with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Japan’s Pacific Music Festival.

"... a unique voice in American music: he doesn’t follow any formula, just his own potent instincts."
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2013/14 will see European premieres of his string quartet, Images From a Closed Ward, at London’s Waterloo Festival, and his concerto for piano and orchestra, along the ravines, with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie (Shai Wosner, piano/Tito Muñoz, conducting) in Germany, and in Romania (Timisoara and Bucharest) as part of the George Enescu International Festival with pianist Matei Varga conducted by Radu Popa. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson will premiere Tenebrae for solo piano as part of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and Soheil Nasseri gives NY premieres of Tenebrae and Two Lullabies with additional performances at the International Beethoven Festival in Chicago. During the summer of 2014, a new solo violin work commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Of Sorrow Born, will premiere at the orchestra’s Biennial, and Mr. Hersch’s chamber opera, On the Threshold of Winter, will be given it’s long awaited premiere in New York by NUNC (Miranda Cuckson, Artistic Director).

Recent performances include Night Pieces, commissioned and premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra, and a song cycle for baritone and piano, Domicilium, premiered by Thomas Hampson and Wolfgang Rieger on San Francisco Performances (commissioned by Mr. Hampson and the ASCAP Kingsford Commissions for Art Song). In early 2012, Mr. Hersch’s Images from a Closed Ward, commissioned by the Blair String Quartet, received premiere performances in New York, Philadelphia and Nashville. Mr. Hersch's second piano concerto, along the ravines, commissioned by pianist Shai Wosner and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust received its premiere with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra with Mr. Wosner as soloist during the spring of 2012.

Major premieres scheduled for 2014/15 include a new concerto for trombone and ensemble, Black Untitled, for Holland’s Ensemble Klang, and a program-length work for violin and piano, Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images of Peter Weiss, commissioned by Vanderbilt University for Carolyn Huebl and Mark Wait.

Michael Hersch
During the summer of 2010, Mr. Hersch's Symphony No. 3 was premiered by Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Contemporary Music Festival Orchestra, a festival commission. His work, in the snowy margins, was premiered by Peter Sheppard-Skaerved at the Dartington New Music Festival in the U.K. Other recent works include Mr. Hersch's, A Forest of Attics, for the Network for New Music's 25th anniversary season, which premiered during the spring of 2010, and was selected as one of the year’s most important classical music events by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The paper said of the work, “A Forest of Attics threw a Molotov cocktail into the concert: Everything before it paled in comparison. ...the music felt like war, with gestures erupting like sirens, high wind writing that sounded like screaming and rapid-fire percussion - all deployed with the control of a master but little sense of resolution. Hersch has written some towering works in recent years; this is yet another."

His music increasingly recorded, Vanguard Classics has released five Hersch recordings over the past decade. In 2009, a recording of his Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello was released, and his complete works for violin the following year. In 2007, Vanguard Classics/Musical Concepts released the landmark boxed-set of Hersch’s 140-minute The Vanishing Pavilions, with the composer at the keyboard. Mr. Hersch’s 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 notable recordings of 2004-05. That disc followed-up his first, released in 2003, which features Mr. Hersch performing his Two Pieces for Piano and Recordatio, with additional performances of Mr. Hersch's chamber works for strings by the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic. In 2006, a recording of Mr. Hersch’s early orchestral works, including his Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, was released on the Naxos American Classics series with Marin Alsop conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

In 2013, Innova Records released a live concert recording of Mr. Hersch in recital - his first public appearance as a pianist in New York City in over a decade. The recording is a special CD/DVD package featuring not only film and an audio recording of the recital, but the acclaimed documentary about Mr. Hersch’s life and work for the piano, The Sudden Pianist, directed by Richard Anderson. The film was an official selection of both the 2013 American Documentary Film Festival and the New York City Independent Film Festival.

"... extraordinarily communicative music ...”
— The New York Times
Past highlights include the completion of his Symphony No. 2, completed in 2001 while the composer was living in Germany, written for Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  It was the second Hersch work which Jansons and the orchestra toured with to Carnegie Hall. A work for clarinet and cello written for clarinetist Walter Boeykens was premiered at the Pantheon in Rome that year as part of the Romaeuropa Festival. During the summer of 2002, Hersch's Octet for Strings, commissioned by Boris Pergamenschikow and the Kronberg Akademie, was given its premiere at the Schloss Neuhardenberg Festival in Brandenberg. For the 2002/03 season Mr. Hersch was selected as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's resident composer by Music Director Mariss Jansons. Mr. Hersch's Piano Concerto, commissioned by Garrick Ohlsson and the orchestras of St. Louis, Oregon and Pittsburgh, was premiered during the fall 2002. In early 2003, at the Philharmonie in Berlin, the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic performed two of Hersch's works including the Octet for Strings and the premiere of his Duo for viola and cello. Later that year Mr. Hersch gave the world premiere of his Recordatio and Two Pieces at the Musica XXI Romaeuropa Festival in Italy. During this same concert, cellist Daniel Gaisford gave the premiere of Mr. Hersch's Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Cello. In the fall of 2004, 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. Arraché, which was commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the opening of their new concert hall, was premiered in early 2005. On October 14th, 2006 in Philadelphia, Hersch gave the world premiere of The Vanishing Pavilions. In 2009, also in Philadelphia, Hersch’s two-hour work for horn and cello, Last Autumn, premiered. The work was written for and premiered by hornist Jamie Hersch and cellist Daniel Gaisford. A recording of Last Autumn scheduled for an early 2015 release.

"... powerfully evocative, a gripping journey through somber emotional states."
— The Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Also regarded among today's most formidable pianists, Mr. Hersch has appeared on the Van Cliburn Foundation’s Modern at the Modern Series, the Romaeuropa Festival, the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., Cleveland's Reinberger Chamber Hall, the Festival of Contemporary Music Nuova Consonanza, the Warhol Museum, the Network for New Music Concert Series, the Left Bank Concert Society, the American Academy in Berlin Series, Festa Europea della Musica, St. Louis' Sheldon Concert Hall, and in New York City at Merkin Concert Hall, the 92nd St. Y - Tisch Center for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, among others.

Born in Washington D.C. in 1971, Michael Hersch first came to international attention at age twenty-five, when he was awarded First Prize in the Concordia American Composers Awards. The award resulted in a performance of his Elegy, conducted by Marin Alsop in New York's Alice Tully Hall in early 1997. Later that year he became one of the youngest recipients ever of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. Mr. Hersch has also been the recipient of the Rome Prize (2000), the Berlin Prize (2001) and both the Charles Ives Scholarship (1996) and Goddard Lieberson Fellowship (2006) from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, three A.S.C.A.P. Morton Gould Awards, and many other honors. He was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Norfolk Festival for Contemporary Music, and the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. His primary studies were at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, with additional studies at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia. Mr. Hersch currently heads the Department of Composition at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

 

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