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Posts tagged 'International Contemporary Ensemble'

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. 

PSNY Recent Recordings: Part I

New Music in America has been booming in recent years, with a new generation of young composers, ensembles, presenting organizations, and record labels contributing to a vibrant community with an increasingly large audience. Though streaming services have become ascendant, recordings and recording projects have come to hold an increasingly important role in new music: they serve as enduring documents of the hard work of composers and performers, letting the music travel beyond the score and the concert hall. 

Over the next few weeks, PSNY will feature the many recent recordings of compositions by our many talented composers, honoring the hard work and ingenuity of the many ensembles and record labels that contribute to the growing communtiy of new music, and indeed carry the music to new audiences across the globe. 

Our list begins with eighth blackbird's 2016 release, Hand Eye, which emerged from a stunning concert program of the same name. For Hand Eye, the multiple-Grammy™-award-winning ensemble paired up with the composer collective Sleeping Giant, which comprises of Ted Hearne, Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Robert Honstein, and Andrew Norman. That concert program, and the resulting album, features Andres' Checkered Shade, Norman's Mine, Mime, Meme, Cerrone's South Catalina, and Hearne's By-By Huey, among compositions by Honstein and Cooper. 

Writing in the American Record Guide, George Adams calls Hand Eye "a gorgeous, delicately constructed sonic mural." Check out eighth blackbird performing the program at Chicago's MCA:

Next, we'd like to feature an album by Ryan Muncy, the stellar saxophonist (who also performed Marcos Balter'sWicker Park on another 2016 record with the International Contemporary Ensemble). Muncy's second solo album, ism, was released on TUNDRA, ICE's in-house recording label, distributed by New Focus Recordings. Alongiside works by James Tenney and Lee Hyla, Muncy teams up with percussionist Ross Karre to perform Erin Gee's Mouthpiece XXIV, commissioned and premeired by Muncy and Karre in 2015. 

Next we'd like to feature two recordings released on New Amsterdam, both of which feature the work of Christopher Cerrone. Vicky Chow's A O R T A features Cerrone's Hoyt-Schemerhorn for solo piano and electronics, bringing her own voice to a piece that has enjoyed many performances since its 2009 premiere. The Living Earth Show's Dance Music features Cerrone's Double Happiness, a work for electric guitar and percussion that they commissioned and premeired in 2013. 

Finally, we'd like to feature an album we previously wrote about in 2016: Adrian Knight's  Obsessions, performed and recorded by R. Andrew Lee and released on Irritable Hedgehog. This long-form work for solo piano emerges from Knight's idiosyncratic and deeply personal musical language. As Knight remarked, "it's probably my most personal piece, because, like life, its trajectory wasn't predetermined. All I knew is that it would have to end." Obsessions resists mediation, and is best listened to completely. Head over to the album's Bandcamp page to take a listen. 

Vijay Iyer's "Trouble" at Ojai and Beyond

As the Music Director of the 2017 Ojai Festival, Vijay Iyer believes that festival-goers will "discover a great deal—not just about music, but about themselves." Stacking the festival program with close collaborators such as violinist Jennifer Koh, and legendary ensembles such as the AACM and ICE, Iyer wants to force an "update" of what contemporary music can mean today. 

On June 8th, Iyer will perform the American premiere of Emergence for jazz trio and orchestra, along with bassist Stephan Crump, drummer Tyshawn Shorey and the International Contemporary Ensemble alongside players of the Oberlin Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble. Emergence, which premiered in 2016, combines the forms and notational traditions of classical music with the possibilities of improvised traditions, asking performers to listen to each other in real time and make performative decisions. 


(Koh with Oberlin Sinfonietta and Tim Weiss in workshop performance of "Trouble"; photo: Yevhen Gulenko, courtesy of Oberlin Conservatory)

That evening's concert also includes the world premiere of Trouble, featuring violinist Jennifer Koh, accompanied by ICE and the Oberlin Contemporary Ensemble, and led by Steven Schick. Trouble is a violin concerto in three movements, the second of which is dedicated to Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American auto-worker killed in a hate crime in 1982. During rehearsals at Oberlin, Koh's colleague Claire Solomon, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature, was inspired to write a "voluntary response" to the piece (you can read Solomon's full account in our PSNY Greenroom, part of our new "Composer Spotlights" series). As Solomon writes, 

Trouble opens up something scarce and endangered that classical music doesn’t even know it needs. Trouble isn’t programmatically anti-racist; it doesn’t represent Chin’s murder but testifies to the rhythmic relay of lives of which his was only one, and demands that we see the pattern. It grieves the racial tragedy that shapes our future because we do not work through it, and it opens up a space for what Derrida called the work of mourning as he might have pointed out an area for his cleaning lady to take care of – but Trouble doesn’t let us off the hook as rubberneckers; it summons us to a reckoning. As Vijay said in the Museum Q&A, it pins us to the present: a moment in which to tell white audiences not to be racist.

Trouble will also be performed at UC Berkeley and Tanglewood, both of which co-commissioned the work.  

The rest of the Ojai Festival is packed with talks and performances, including two that feature flautist Claire Chase. On June 9th, Chase will perform excerpts from Marcos Balter's Pan, and on June 10th, Chase performs a free pop-up concert of Mario Diaz de Leon's Labrys and Mysterium

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