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Posts tagged 'monodrama'

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. 

Hannah Lash: New Monodrama, Works for Choreography

On Sunday, November 2nd, the audience at the Guggenheim Museum in New York witnessed a rare glimpse at new music and new choreography, "fresh out of the oven," by composers Hannah Lash, Ted Hearne, and Caroline Shaw. Curated by David Lang, with choreography by Pam Tanowitz, this performance, part of the Works and Process series, previewed a collaborative project between composers and choreographers, slated to be performed in February, 2015. Check out a recording of the event, including an interview with the composers and choreographer, here: 

 

Hannah Lash is no stranger to collaboration: her recent monodrama, Stoned Prince, has just been recorded by loadbang, and is slated to be released on November 5th on ANALOG Arts. Listen to an excerpt from the recording below:

 

Opera News from PSNY Composers

Our PSNY composers are keeping busier than ever, and we'd like to share three projects that are making headlines across the nation. Starting with a bi-coastal collaboration, California-based composer (and librettist) Ken Ueno is working with Boston-based Guerilla Opera on a new project entitled Gallo [Chicken], directed by Sarah Meyers. Premiering at the end of May, this evening-long chamber opera "investigates how the landscape and man shape and transform each other, and addresses the fundamental question of ontology: 'the chicken or the egg?'" 

A week earlier, in Washington, D.C., David T. Little's Soldier Songs will be performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Recently featured in The Washington Post, this work is a tour-de-force multimedia event, bringing out Little's signature compositional voice and disturbing subject matter. Check out Little's Last Nightfall, for soprano and ensemble, to get a taste of Little's powerful, political writing. 

And, for those who haven't heard, Kamran Ince has premeired a new monodrama, entitled Abandoned, as a part of Opera Memphis' "Ghosts of Crosstown"  festival. Writing through "the perspective of an abandoned building speaking to the sun at night," this work inhabits the world of the Sears Crosstown Building in downtown Memphis, abandoned in 1993. 

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