"I very much believe he is the composer to whom we must give attention."
— Mariss Jansons (2001)
"Michael Hersch is 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 un-self-conscious, unstudied and powerful in its projection, convinced and convincing. His 'voice,' his 'signature' is already unmistakably there."
— George Rochberg (1996)
"From the first sound, I was taken. Because here was a voice that I responded to viscerally."
— Garrick Ohlsson (2002)
"Hersch's music forms a unique world ... 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. ... 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 (2010)
"I premiered this shatteringly emotional work at Dartington last year. One of the movements is marked ‘Terrifying, Cataclysmic’. There are very few composers who can succeed in bringing that off with violin alone. Hersch is one of them."
— Peter Sheppard-Skaerved (2011)
“Michael Hersch writes 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.”— The Baltimore Sun (2012)
"... a haiku-like series of economic gestures with devastating emotional impact.— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2001)
"... a Promethean creator who has been charged with relaying his particular message. He combines a mixture of urgency and facility that is dazzling."— The Washington Post (1999)
"If the symmetries and proportions of Mr. Hersch's music evoke the grounded fixity of architecture, its dynamism and spontaneous evolution are those of the natural world. Its somber eloquence sings of truths that are personal yet not confessional ... ... within the sober palette, the expressive power and range are vast."— The New York Times (2001)
"... an extraordinary stretch of music, and points to a unique voice in American music: he doesn’t follow any formula, just his own potent instincts."— Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2006)
"Hersch demonstrates an impressive control of dissonance and a keen textural awareness of sound. His writing swings between the hazy and the precise, between a dark, tone-clustered opacity that hits in the gut, and a crystalline transparency that draws the ear toward the smallest details: a pair of falling intervals on the piano, a muted jab in the basses. The piece ends with a series of blurry chords held in the lower strings. These final notes are present but mysteriously distant, like the memory of sound corrupted by the distance of time."— The Washington Post (2002)
"... powerfully evocative, a gripping journey through somber emotional states. Bursting into the foreground with violent screams, the orchestra repeatedly interrupted haunting, lyrical exchanges between the soloist and colorful partners such as harp, bass clarinet and English horn ... touring all sorts of dark places rarely visited by the instrument."
— The Cleveland Plain-Dealer (2012) on Night Pieces for trumpet and orchestra
"These performances confirm Michael Hersch 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."
— The Financial Times of London (2007)
"... a selection of works that demonstrated the piano’s ability to reflect the whole gamut of human emotions. From the playfulness of Brahms’s Capriccios ... to the bitter anguish of two powerful new pieces by Michael Hersch ... the grief-stricken Tenebrae and Two Lullabies, which Mr. Hersch wrote after a friend’s death.
Mr. Hersch’s Tenebrae opens with an explosive chord that rattles the frame of the piano and seems to release a dark, toxic cloud over the remainder of the piece. There is a fragile beauty to the searching chords that gradually grow more frantic and erratic. The piece ends as if in shock.
Despite the title, there is nothing soothing about the Two Lullabies, which, although slow, are punctuated by bruising cluster chords. The second lullaby features a pendulumlike motion and mystical harmonies that are constantly assaulted by violent chords. Here, too, Mr. Nasseri’s physical commitment to the music — in the use of fists or a sudden slumping of the shoulder — added to the sense of exhaustion and despair of these psychologically absorbing and structurally convincing pieces."
— The New York Times (2013)
"Ohlsson had premiered Michael Hersch’s first Piano Concerto (2002), and now we heard the premiere of that composer’s “Tenebrae” (2010). The eight minute work, a profoundly personal response to the death of an intimate friend, begins as a dense, shadowy dirge. It grows in anguish to an enraged climax before concluding on a note of unresolved emptiness."
— The Santa Fe Reporter (2013)
"Hersch is a startling talent. He writes music that contains great complexity, but is remarkably lucid ... The dense harmonic blocks and mazes of percussive assaults seem to speak from a world of trouble, fear and doubt. But shards of light penetrate the music in ways that prove just as powerful. The superb orchestration ensures that each tormented peak and each moment of reflection registers clearly."— The Baltimore Sun (2011) - on the Symphony No. 2
"... supremely gifted" — Philadelphia Daily News (2010)
"Michael Hersch writes music that can take the tiniest of gestures and within seconds wreak havoc on one's emotional state. The brief Fourteen Pieces for unaccompanied violin on texts of Primo Levi take on images of dread - "dense violent dreams," one line reads ... The sixth movement beginning "I won't go far," sounds like a tentative but graceful reaching -- a trapeze artists with no net stretching an arm out.— The Newark Star-Ledger (2011)
"Michael Hersch's Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied cello is one of his earliest published works, written when he was 23, in 1994. The riveting piece, given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford, is included on the first of three discs featuring Mr. Hersch’s solo and chamber music for string instruments ... The intensity and communicative power of this sonata, at times an anguished lament, is typical of much of Mr. Hersch’s work. The sonata’s profoundly solitary, rhapsodic first movement veers between yearning lyricism and agitated outbursts. The reflective second movement ... ebbs and flows into the harmonically rich final movement, with its virtuoso challenges and almost brutal intensity.— The New York Times (2010)
"Nearly every new work by Michael Hersch is like a journey to the center of the Earth, each achieved by a different route and in varying vehicles. Thursday at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, the composer's medium was string quartet, and the journey itself often left you in a figurative blindfold that's taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain. ... haiku-like micro movements that teem with cumulative impact. Much of the piece uses the string quartet medium to create sonorities that might be paradoxically described as vividly pale, against which there are dabs of more bold colors or short themes, vaguely pointing in several possible directions that are left unpursued. Rarely is there a completed thought: All movements end inconclusively, often with several seconds of designated silence that freezes the musical idea in suspended animation. Often, Hersch uses a series of chords, seemingly similar for being voiced with extremes of treble and bass, but with subtle differences creating forward motion and even narrative."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2012) on Images From a Closed Ward
"... complex, ferocious and disturbingly dark. In this current era of art music, when ebullient tonality is all the rage, this kind of writing is extremely refreshing. Not that this music is cerebral and overly abstract. Quite the reverse; Hersch writes with an emotional honesty that leaves him naked."
— The Broad Street Review (2010) on A Forest of Attics for chamber ensemble
“... a world resonant with profound, sometimes rhapsodic, sometimes crushing emotion. His music knows no ‘as if’s'... kaleidoscopic strategies of transition and contrast that convey his messages with efficiency and power ... hurling brief phrases back and forth at top speed like thunderbolts, the voices of the instruments clash in apparent argument until the piano entered, calming the pandemonium. Drowsily, gloomily, the basses stirred to life soon joined by higher strings, which hovered like a heavy canopy studded with bright clusters of notes. Then solo winds were heard from, in close formation, suddenly rising in a spike of anguish. The strings returned, section by diaphanous section. In a trice, yet not abruptly, a light went out, as if the sun had set, and a mood of despair set in. Shrill flutes, then the brass and percussion took over, insistent and brutal. The road ahead held further surprises: an icy, stratospheric passage for the strings, an elegy for the woodwinds, background figures that plinked and strummed, a frenzied, whiffling outburst in the upper registers over a granitic yet propulsive pulse in the bass. Most fascinating of all was the ending, in which short sections of profoundly divergent character alternated and stopped, alternated and stopped. Lost paradise. ... shifts minute but momentous.
— The Wall St. Journal (2002) - on the Symphony No. 2
"... [a] boldly designed work ... True to his refreshing penchant for the outer boundaries of expression, Hersch frequently sets the upper end of the dynamic gamut in vivid contrast with some equally extreme quiet passages ... by no means easy listening, but I find it profoundly rewarding and no end fascinating."
— Musicweb International (2012) on along the ravines for piano and orchestra
" ... a prodigy of immense proportions."— Marin Alsop in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (2002)
"... spare, astringent ... A line about “griefs unspoken” hung drily over an arid piano ground, while the “whirlwind and fire” that followed were all but buried in an avalanche of pounding chords. The singer’s voice grew thin and desiccated, as it was reduced down to a kind of awestruck, toneless whisper at Nature’s “soft release.” The huffing short phrases of the final section — “Why did you give no hint that night?” — echoed the single-syllable thrum of Hardy’s line. ... intense and scattered, impassioned and pointilistic ..."
— San Francisco Classical Voice (2013) on Domicilium for baritone and piano
"... an amazing, natural composer, almost unlike anyone I've met. Music seems to pour out of him in some mysterious way -- there's a spring of music that's almost unstoppable in him."— Ara Guzelimian in Symphony Magazine (1999)
"His Recordatio in memory of Luciano Berio, displays the combination of ascetic rigor and freedom of expression characteristic of all his music. The actual melodic material is almost negligible: short clusters made of very few notes, like rapid ornamental gruppettos, superimposed over bands of sound, single notes or intervals sustained with the pedal. ... an occasional whirlpool of ascending atonal arpeggios; distinct treatment of the keyboard's registers, each with its own separate phrasing and articulation — yet these limited materials suffice to build a whole world."
— andante.com (2003) - on the premiere, Romaeuropa Festival
" ... an intensely focused seven-movement score in which bursts of dissonant chordal figuration are offset by tense, foreboding silences ... he writes with an almost painterly variety ..."— The New York Times (2011)
"... astounding facility at the keyboard."— International Piano (2003)
" ... he totally eschews cliché. Each idea unfolds in the length of time it needs to make its point. Let your attention wander for a second, and you've missed something. Concentrate, think, be patient, and the rewards for listening are everywhere."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2005)
"... [it] gripped the ear right from the opening movement... With the occasional insertion of familiar harmony amid the thick, forbidding dissonance, Hersch's writing is fresh and astonishingly powerful ..." — The Baltimore Sun (2006)
"Intensely expressive and personal, the raw emotionality of its craggy landscapes of sheer rock faces, sharp peaks and menacing crevasses can unnerve the first-time listener. Yet for all of its diverse qualities, this firm, distinct voice continues to appeal to a wide range of ears. A landscape you can't help but step into, right away. But as it progresses it feels more like an inner climatic state than any sort of place, a subconscious musical netherworld where the weight of air is of salient concern. Laid out in three movements Hersch starts the piece with traditional modals, but melds them, via bitter clusters of chords, to yield fresh ideas within his rich chromatic palette. Heavy weather rolls and growls ... a sudden tonal sirocco from the back rows of brass - and then recedes back into a low lying fog of moaning strings. An off-stage piano echoes and magnifies the solo piano's material for an eerie reverb effect. Ominous writhings settle into calm searching pools of pensive music, or soar off in a brief lyrical fling. Atmospheric elements - wind, temperature, moisture - all combine in peculiar ways to render clouds, colours, and precipitation that develop, like a weather system, along a slow trajectory. Resolution is inexorable. One must simply experience all its alluring moods to the fullest, the pelting rain as well as the breaking clouds. ... dense but utterly absorbing. Though one may not quite feel placed in this mesmerising cosmos at first, one is irresistibly drawn to it. There is a curious magnetism in a voice so unselfconscious, unstudied and inimitable. It's rare that we get to hear a work that makes us think for days afterward, and in this case, the last notes are barely a memory and we want to be back in it." — International Piano (2002) - on the premiere of the Piano Concerto
"The Piano Concerto … is a tremendous achievement. It not only recasts the very nature of concertos but creates a realm of illusive meaning and segmented thought that mirrors the way we think and mourn." — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2003)
“No doubt the composer, at the age of 30, ranks as the new hope of American musical culture.”
— Berliner Morgenpost (2002)
"... extraordinarily communicative music ... Mr. Hersch's music speaks for itself eloquently."
— The New York Times (2001)
"Network for New Music unveiled Michael Hersch's A Forest of Attics, a work of searing honesty even by his expressionistic standards. ... 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."— The Philadelphia Inquirer (2010)
"The cello by itself has hardly ever resounded so brilliantly as in Hersch's Sonata No. 2 for Solo Cello... arresting ideas and sonic miracles piled in one upon another for nearly 50 minutes in this, the closing work of the concert. Once again, one was impressed by a huge musical intellect who isn't, at least for now, aiming for the hit parade."
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2003)
"... phenomenal musical ability"— Financial Times
"The best insight came with Hersch at the piano. ... prodigious keyboard skill. ... a stunning virtuosity that dropped one’s jaw." — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2003)
"There is an urgency and terseness to Michael Hersch's writing that retains interest from first to last. This is disquieting music, to be sure. It holds its spell not because it offers windows of hope but because it forces us to examine ourselves as we are now." — Fanfare Magazine (2008)
"In 2005, Hersch ﬁnished The Vanishing Pavilions, a profound, visionary, almost apocalyptic work for piano that takes approximately two and a half hours to play. Hersch has now written a similar work called Last Autumn. The music is recognizably Herschian: concentrated, mysterious, riveting, demanding, sometimes violent. Hersch writes as though his life depended on it, as though everything were at stake. His internal life must be powerful, sometimes jolting ... Hersch is a bona ﬁde composer with important things to say ... and as more and more people will recognize as this exceptional career continues" — The New Criterion (2010)