"Hersch's music forms a unique world; one highly recognizable as his own and difficult to associate closely with stylistic movements. He uses spare materials to grippingly visceral effect, packing the utmost expression into very simple bits of material. It can at times be almost unbearably intense. Using isolated clusters or chords, he masterfully employs the power of a single attack, or of a precisely shaped crescendo on a single note, to express his aims. Loud and turbulent passages requiring great accuracy combined with wildly unleashed energy and speed adjoin extensive sections or brief moments of restraint and simplicity, where bow control of every inflection becomes paramount. The sudden switches from furious virtuosity to still, delicate playing, along with often abnormally large stretches and leaps, test the performer's skill and stamina. These instrumental issues are very particular to Hersch's music, and they serve its basic expressive paradox, for the listener is simultaneously impacted by its huge dimensions and powerful gestures, and drawn in by its acute focus on subtle detail and nuance." —Miranda Cuckson
the wreckage of flowers

Michael Hersch - Images From a Closed Ward

Michael Hersch: Images From a Closed Ward
Label: Innova Records (884)
The Blair String Quartet
Release Date: February 2014



In Images from a Closed Ward composer Michael Hersch takes his inspiration from artist Michael Mazur’s (1935-2009) harrowing etchings and lithographs of inmates from a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s. The highly regarded Blair String Quartet both commissioned and gave the first performances of Images From A Closed Ward, Hersch's only string quartet.

"...the journey left you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain."
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"... It is the sound of a string quartet playing with rage and inconsolable sadness." -- ArtNowNashville

"... not a note is wasted. Every note or phrase has its purpose. One of his (Hersch’s) markings is 'haunted, stricken.' If anyone knows the trick of expressing agony in music, he does. And his command of craft, overall, is something rare. Often at his premieres, we say, 'We have heard something important. We have heard music that will last,' I felt just this way about Images from a Closed Ward.” -- City Arts
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the wreckage of flowers

Michael Hersch - the wreckage of flowers - Works for Violin

Michael Hersch: Complete Works for Solo String Instruments - Volume II
Label: Vanguard Classics (MC-105 )
Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano
Release Date: November 2010



In late 2010, Vanguard Classics released the second installment of its ambitious survey of Michael Hersch's works for strings. Volume I of the Vanguard series, which featured Hersch's Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello, was released to great acclaim in 2009. The current disc comprises his works for violin, featuring violinist Miranda Cuckson, who has emerged over the past decade as among the foremost new music advocates of her generation.

The present title is Vanguard’s fifth recording of Hersch’s works, a rare honor for a composer who at the time of its release was not yet 40. His first disc of chamber music was released in 2003, with performances by the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic, alongside performances of Hersch’s piano works with the composer at the keyboard. His second disc for the label, on which Hersch performed his own Milosz Fragments in addition to works by Josquin des Pres, Wolfgang Rihm, and Morton Feldman, was selected by both The Washington Post and Newsday as among the most important recordings of 2004-5. In 2007, Vanguard released a two-CD boxed set of the composer's landmark work, The Vanishing Pavilions, again with the composer at the piano.

The new recording, features Hersch's Five FragmentsFourteen Pieces after texts of Primo Levi, both for unaccompanied violin, and the wreckage of flowers: 21 pieces after poetry and prose of Czeslaw Milosz, where Ms. Cuckson is joined by pianist Blair McMillen. MORE INFORMATION

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Michael Hersch: Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello

Michael Hersch: Complete Works for Solo String Instruments - Volume I
Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello
Label: Vanguard Classics (MCS-CD-104)
Daniel Gaisford, cello
Release Date: 2009


This disc is the first in an ambitious multi-disc survey by Vanguard Classics of Michael Hersch's complete solo works for strings. The recording focuses on the incredibly demanding early sonatas for unaccompanied cello, both of which were written while the composer was still in his twenties. The second installment, which was released in late 2010, features Hersch's music for violin, performed by violinist Miranda Cuckson.

(four stars) "... an intricately constructed world with vast emotional scope." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Michael Hersch - The Vanishing Pavilions

Label: Vanguard Classics / Musical Concepts (MC-101)
[2 CD Box Set]
Michael Hersch, piano
Release Date: 2007


"The evening felt downright historic. [Hersch] conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity. Everything unfolds in open-ended, haiku-like eruptions, though built on ideas that recur throughout the 50 movements, from a lamenting, chantlike melody to passages of such speed and density you'd think the complete works of Franz Liszt were played simultaneously within three minutes. Overtly or covertly, The Vanishing Pavilions is about the destruction of shelter (both in fact and in concept) and life amid the absence of any certainty. And though the music is as deeply troubled as can be, its restless directness also commands listeners not to be paralyzed by existential futility."
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer (from the premiere performance)
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Michael Hersch: Chamber Music

Label: Vanguard Classics (ATM-CD-1240)
String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic
Michael Hersch, piano
Release Date: 2003


"... austere and uncompromising. What attracts the ear, and keeps it engaged, is Hersch’s acute ear for harmony. This manifests itself not only in the colours of the sounds themselves – but also in the way that glimmers of tonality emerge at key locations in a largely atonal landscape. But, then, Hersch clearly has an innate dramatic sensibility. His Octet is spread over 11 distinctly characterised movements (and at 31 minutes the largest work here), yet how inexorably it moves. The climax is placed in the 10th movement (and, interestingly, the dramatic shape of this movement appears to be a condensation of the work’s larger structure), while the final movement (a reprise of the second) serves as an anguished, angry and strangely familiar sounding epitaph. The effect is devastating.” -- Gramophone Magazine

“With Hersch, you hear a sincere, emotionally raw voice with every utterance – often a harrowing experience. ... urgent, commanding, able to communicate without shouting and without cliche.” -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Hersch – Josquin – Rihm – Feldman

Label: Vanguard Classics (ATM-CD-1558)
Michael Hersch, piano / Daniel Gaisford, cello
Release Date: 2004


"... a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself." -- Tim Page (The Washington Post)

"He plays his own spare transcriptions of works by 15th century master Josquin des Prés, as well as Morton Feldman’s chilly “Piano Piece (for Philip Guston)”, the moody silences and sometimes gauzy, sometimes jangly textures of which he articulates with imposing power. In Wolfgang Rihm’s “Auf einem anderen Blatt”, Hersch’s palette ranges from diaphanous, petal-soft tones to startlingly metallic stabs. Of greatest interest are Hersch’s “Milosz Fragments”, inspired by the Nobel laureate’s poems and based on the composer’s 2003 work, the wreckage of flowers, and his Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Cello. Daniel Gaisford brings the latter to life with astonishing virtuosity and a haunted lyricism ideally suited to Hersch’s somber muse. “Milosz Fragments” finds Hersch at his most tortured, traversing landscapes of uncompromising bleakness. An immensely rewarding disc.”
-- Time Out NY

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Michael Hersch: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Fracta, Arraché
  • Label: Naxos 8.559281
    Conductor: Marin Alsop
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Release Date: 2006

"These performances confirm Michael Hersch (b.1971) as one of the most seriously engaging musical voices in the U.S. today. The Second Symphony marries a volcanic New World energy to a deeply skeptical, often angst-ridden spiritual climate. Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are brilliant advocates." -- Andrew Clark (The Financial Times, UK)

"(4 stars) Three years separate Michael Hersch's First and Second Symphonies. The first, composed in 1998, is hauntingly beautiful, densely textured with an inexorable sense of the organic. The second displays a rather more searching and adventurous style, where dramatic extremes and a more intense astringency are its lifeblood. There's an alluring boldness about this young American's music, which is noticeable too in Fracta and Arraché, both contained in this big-scale survey by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop." -- The Scotsman
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