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Michael Hersch's "Carrion-Miles to Purgatory" Released on New Focus Recordings

The music of Michael Hersch is direct, powerful, and expressive: it makes the pulsing nerve of the human condition audible, laying bare some of the most intense and powerful human emotions. Hersch's new album, Carrion-Miles to Pugatory, released May 31st on New Focus Recordings, documents three works—each composed for two musicians—that address what frequent collaborator Patricia Kopatchinskaja calls "this dark side, this shadow and blood." Indeed, for this album, Kopatchinskaja commissioned a new work by Hersch, "...das Rückgrat berstend," which takes its title from the poetry of Christopher Middleton, translated at the violinist's request into German. Throughout the piece, Kopatchinskaja speaks selected fragments from Middleton's poetry in a fervent, carefully-notated declamation, without excessive dramatization. This spoken, scored text, echoing and simultaneously transcending techniques such as Sprechstimme, accompanies highly charged gestural writing in high and low strings—violin and cello—that mirror, ilustrate, react to, and metabolize the poetry in music. While Middleton's poetry has long played a role in Hersch's poetic compositional imagination, appearing frequently in the written matter of his sketches and scores, das Rückgrat berstend—"the spine exploding"—is a powerful sonic expression of Hersch's voice.

Carrion-Miles to Purgatory takes its name from an excerpt from the American poet Robert Lowell's Lord Weary's Castle, his second book of poetry, published in 1947. Hersch's work, for violin and cello, meditates on themes of loss, death, and tragedy in thirteen short movements that resemble "thirteen fragments of a single shattered geode," as David Plylar writes in the album's liner notes. Here, Carrion-Miles to Purgarory is exctingly performed by violinist Miranda Cuckson and cellist Jay Campbell. Each movement develops its own musical logic in the dimensions of pacing, harmony, gesture, and rhythmic complexity; the movements form a gestalt of emotion, each reflecting and refracting the same ineffable subject. 

Also included on this album is a rare performance by Hersch himself, alongside violinist Miranda Cuckson, recorded during a live performance at National Sawdust in 2018. "Music for Violin and Piano" incorporates nearly thirty short movements from five of Hersch's works, along with new material composed for the concert, influenced by the poetry of Christopher Middleton, Phillip Schultz, Primo Levi, and Chesław Miłosz. The resulting performance is eleven kaleidoscopic minutes of exactingly-notated music, pushing Cuckson and the composer himself to technical extremes, seamlessly creating a new narrative that is driving, engaging, and always intense. 

TAK Ensemble Releases "Oor," Featuring Erin Gee & Ann Cleare

Over the past six years, New York's TAK Ensemble has emerged as a unique ensemble in contemporary music: the quintet has already released two albums, collaborating with composers Taylor Brook and Mario Diaz de Leon, which show the ensemble's dedication to working directly with composers and artists to create new work. Now TAK has launched their own record label, TAK Editions, and will release their third album—Oor—featuring works by PSNY composers Erin Gee and Ann Cleare, in addition to works by Tyshawn Sorey, Ashkan Behdazi, David Bird, and Natacha Diels. 

Erin Gee's Mouthpiece 28, included on the album, was premiered by TAK in 2016, and here sees a pristine studio recording that captures every minute sound of vocalist Charlotte Mundy's voice, turned into a non-semantic instrument complimeted by bass flute, bass clarinet, violin, and percussion. Oor also features a recording of Ann Cleare's unable to create an offscreen world (c), which explores "ideas of wrongness, incompatibility, and inability with ferocious streams of energy, confidence and hope."

TAK writes: 

The album is called Oor (roughly translating to naked) because these works, to us, share a sense of raw openness, unvarnished emotion, and urgency. This visceral collection of pieces, primarily written for the ensemble, highlights fierce virtuosity, uncanny blends, and otherworldly timbral landscapes.

Preview the album at I Care If You Listen or TAK's Bandcamp page, and if you're in New York, be sure to check out their album release event on May 18th.

Ann Cleare Wins Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation Composers' Prize

Ann Cleare has won a 2019 Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation Composers' Prize—one of the most prestigious and significant awards in music, and the first Siemens Foundation prize to be awarded to an Irish composer. On June 7th, Cleare will recieve the award, alongside fellow awardees Annesley Black and Mithatcan Öcal, at a ceremony that will also include screenings of short films about all three composers, as well as a performance of Cleare's chamber ensemble work, on magnetic fields. The award also includes a portrait album on the Viennese label KAIROS, to be released later in 2019.

The musicologist Gascia Ouzounian has written an essay on Cleare's works, including her ensemble work on magnetic fields (2011-2012), her string quartet Moil (2010), and I Am Not a Clockmaker Either (2009), for accordion and electronics. Ouzounian asks:

is it music at all? Or is it something else, an altogether different artform that draws from musical traditions, but pushes against and beyond them, articulating something that is at once about sound, but that is equally concerned with energy, motion, space – and the world itself?

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