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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. 

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