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Posts tagged 'Dal Niente New Music, NFP'

The Music of Michael Hersch



The music of Michael Hersch, as Alex Ross has written in The New Yorker, is "harsh, relentless, and [...] gripping in its dogged progress." Writing in The New York Times, Corinna de Fonesca-Wollheim calls it "bleak," "dark," "somber," and "anguished." But as de Fonesca-Wollheim reminds us, to many of Hersch's collaborators and listeners, this music is also necessary. As Hersch's frequent collaborator, the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has said: “The despair in the music makes it a necessary experience, to play and to listen to [...] There is nothing you can compare it to.”

In Hersch's 2015 Violin Concerto, commissioned by Kopatchinskaja and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hersch presents a raw nerve, something abject—and hence something powerful and potentially life-changing. As Kopatchinskaja notes, “I’m every time really overwhelmed, and I’m a bit scared to play his music, again and again… but I know it’s very necessary for our time.”


(Patricia Kopatchinskaja on the music of Michael Hersch)

Recently recorded by Kopatchinskaja and the International Contemporary Ensemble, and released on New Focus Recordings, Hersch’s Violin Concerto was named the Best Violin Concerto of 2018 by Sequenza21. It responds directly to the death of a close friend. As Aaron Grad writes, “the four movements of Hersch’s concerto align like a series of interconnected islands of sound around an essential but unknowable vanishing point.” The concerto begins with an epigraph constructed of two fragments of poems by Thomas Hardy, and ends:

Strange sounds of anger and sadness
That cut the heart’s core,
And shaken words bitter to madness;
And then no more.


This poetic epigraph anticipates Hersch’s instructions to the instrumentalists: they are to play “ferociously”, and when the violin enters, it is to play “brutally throughout.” Kopatchinskaja comments on Hersch’s writing for the violin: “...the Violin Concerto is an open wound, there is no other way to say it. I know no other work by a composer of my generation that is so convincing, that moves me so deeply, [...] that tolerates neither doubt nor objection. It is like a mountain one can't ignore. For me, Michael Hersch embodies the new generation after icons like György Kurtág or György Ligeti. With him, everything is crystal clear, there is no decoration, no superficial beauty, no compromises. Everything is exactly in place, has found its perfect form."


Hersch’s 2010 string quartet Images from a Closed Ward was described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one that "[leaves] you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain." The piece traces its origins to an encounter Hersch had with etchings by the American artist Michael Mazur (1935–2009). Like his Violin ConcertoImages from a Closed Ward explores what Mazur called an “overwhelming sense of ‘sadness’ [...] a complicated, and therefore interesting human condition.” Hersch's music can be "unrelenting, nearly without hope ... But no artwork can be without hope since it is in the very nature of creative work to be optimistic, if only in as much as we continue to work through everything but our own death.”

 

Hersch explicitly explored illness and death in his 2012 monodrama, On the Threshold of Winter, which sets texts by the Romanian author Marin Sorescu's book The Bridge, written on his deathbed. It responds directly to the death of a close friend to cancer, and Hersch's own struggle with the disease. Premiered in 2014, On the Threshold of Winter "left the audience shellshocked and the soloist, the soprano Ah Young Hong, in tears." As Andrew Farach-Colton writes in his program note for the monodrama,

Ultimately, our consolation is found in Hersch's art itself: in the richness of his imagination, and the precision and concision of his musical language. But, most of all, it is in his humanity, which shines like a beacon through the score's darkest page. 

Ensemble Dal Niente Premieres New Work by Anthony Cheung

Anthony Cheung is a composer with deep roots in both New York and Chicago. In one city he studied and still co-directs the Talea Ensemble, and in the other has been composing and teaching at the University of Chicago. Three members of Ensemble Dal Niente, one of Chicago's most dynamic new music ensembles, brings Cheung's music back to New York for an evening of works that bridge these two cities, featuring works for solo instruments and ensemble that travel between simplicity and virtuosity, meditation and play. 

On January 23rd at Spectrum NYC, flutist Emma Hospelhorn, oboist Andrew Nogal, and clarinetist Katie Schoepflin perform works by Cheung and several other composers based in Chicago and elsewhere. The instrumentalists will begin with solo works, including Cheung's Après une lecture for solo oboe, Toshio Hosokawa's Vertical Song I for solo flute, and Pierce Gradone'sAutomaton for solo bass, before moving on to ensemble works by Alex Temple, Carola Bauckholt, and Joël-François Durand. Check out Bauckholt's Zopf below. 

PSNY Around America

It's an exciting week for new music in America. Though plenty of concerts will be happening on both coasts, this week boasts three events in Nebraska, Chicago, and Miami that showcase the works of PSNY Composers outside of their normal haunts. Premieres of new works, master classes, and presentations will be given by five PSNY composers over the next several days in both the urban centers of Chicago and Miami, as well as the regional center of Kearney, Nebraska. Who says new music only happens in New York? 

Kicking off this weekend of new music in America's heartland is a performance on November 6th by pianist Karl Larson at the University of Nebraska, Kearney. Larson, who has premiered several works by PSNY composers, will perform Scott Wollschleger's Secret Machines No. 6 and Adrian Knight's Death of Paneloux, alongside Morton Feldman's Palais de Mari. Larson recently premiered Wollschleger's Meditation on Dust with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, and has played all of Wollschleger's works for piano. The University of Nebraska Kearny recently wrote a preview of the concert, which calls Larson's playing "adventurous," and includes a short interview with Dr. Anthony Donofrio, UNK assistant professor in music theory and composition. Get a taste of Larson's program with a sample of Adrian Knight's Death of Paneloux

The following evening, Adrian Knight's hour-long piece Obsessions will be performed by pianist R. Andrew Lee at the FETA Foundation in Miami, Florida. Obsessions, commissioned by Lee, will be heard again at the University of Central Florida on November 10th. The piece is described as "a fifty-minute work which explores stubborn habits, routines, patterns, and, well, obsessions."

During the same weekend, Northwestern University's second annual New Music Conference and Festival will take place at the Bienen School of Music. This hybrid conference and festival brings together scholars, composers, performers, and students for a free weekend of workshops, performances, master classes, and presentations. Participating ensmebles include Ensemble Dal Niente and Third Coast Percussion, and participating composers include PSNY composers Ann Cleare, Kate Soper, and Ted Hearne, among others. 

On Saturday, November 7th, Northwestern's Contemporary Music Ensemble (co-directed by Alan Pierson) will perform excerpts from Ted Hearne's Katrina Ballads, as well as Ann Cleare's on magnetic fields, which will be published soon on PSNY. The following afternoon, Hearne, Cleare, and fellow PSNY composer Kate Soper will present on their work as a part of the conference. A complete schedule of events is available here.

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