Michael Hersch

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Booklet cover for a recording of orchestral music by Michael Hersch (Naxos 8.559281).

Michael Nathaniel Hersch (born June 25, 1971) is an American composer and pianist.


Initial inspiration and musical education

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Reston, Virginia, Hersch was introduced to classical music at the age of 18 by his younger brother Jamie, who showed him a videotape of Georg Solti conducting Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. This "shook me," Hersch has written. "It scrambled everything. That's when I knew that I was to be a composer... My whole life started over at that moment."

He almost immediately began studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Hersch has stated that "with Morris Cotel - the teacher I spent the most time with during my studies at the Peabody Conservatory - lessons consisted only of week after week coming into the teacher's studio, playing and singing through the latest work at the piano and his saying nothing more than, 'Okay. Fine. See you next week.' He believed that a composer confronting his or herself in this manner would force the composer to look in the mirror seeing, along with the good, all the flaws."[1] Hersch moved on to the Moscow Conservatory, where he worked with Albert Leman and Roman Ledenev, and received a Certificate in Composition in 1995. He also worked with John Corigliano, John Harbison and George Rochberg at a program for young composers in 1995. Hersch then returned to Peabody for graduate studies. He serves on the faculty at Peabody, where he is the Chair of the composition department.

Early success

His first success came when Marin Alsop selected Elegy for Strings as winner of the American Composers Prize, and conducted it at Lincoln Center in New York in 1997. That year also saw Hersch win a Guggenheim Fellowship and become a fellow at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Center, where he worked with Christopher Rouse, followed by fellowships at the Norfolk Festival for Contemporary Music and the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan in 1998. In 2000 Hersch won the Rome Prize, where he worked with Luciano Berio, and in 2001 the Berlin Prize, where he worked with Hans Werner Henze.

A CD of orchestral works with Marin Alsop conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has been released on the Naxos Records label, and another disc on the Vanguard Classics label features Mr. Hersch as a pianist, performing not only his own work, but works of Morton Feldman, Wolfgang Rihm, and Josquin des Prez (Hersch's own arrangements of Mille Regretz and De Profundis Clamavi). The disc was selected by The Washington Post and Newsday as among the most important recordings of 2004-05.


His music increasingly recorded, Vanguard Classics is in the midst of an acclaimed three volume survey of Hersch’s complete music for solo strings. This project comes several years after the 2007 release of Hersch’s, The Vanishing Pavilions, with the composer at the keyboard. Critic David Patrick Stearns of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote on the premiere of "The Vanishing Pavilions," a work lasting over 2 hours, premiered on October 14, 2006.[2]

In 2014 his first opera was premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Fishman Space with Ah Young Hong as the solo soprano. The opera, about illness and death, is a reaction to the passing of one of Hersch's closest friends in 2009, as well as the composer's own diagnosis of cancer at the time. Its text comes from the deathbed poems of Romanian writer Marin Sorescu.[3]

His Violin Concerto was premiered on November 6, 2015 by renowned violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ordway Concert Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota.[4]

Piano performance

Michael Hersch has appeared on the Van Cliburn Foundation’s Modern at the Modern Series, the Romaeuropa Festival, the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., the Festival of Contemporary Music Nuova Consonanza, the Warhol Museum, the Network for New Music Concert Series, the Left Bank Concert Society, the American Academy in Berlin Series, Festa Europea della Musica, St. Louis' Sheldon Concert Hall, and in New York City at Merkin Concert Hall, the 92nd St. Y - Tisch Center for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, among others.

Michael Hersch's public debut took place in Carnegie Recital Hall in 1999. Also on the program was noted composer Jason Eckardt. Both Hersch and Eckardt had received commissions from Carnegie Hall.

Michael Hersch rarely performs in public, but commands a wide repertoire from Josquin to Boulez. Since 2000 he has primarily focused on performances of his own work.[5]

Selected works[edit]

  • Piano Concerto (2002); premiered by Garrick Ohlsson and a co-commission of the Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Oregon symphonies
  • Chamber Concerto for piano and 13 instruments (2007)
  • Night Pieces for trumpet and orchestra (2010)
  • along the ravines for piano and orchestra (2010)
  • a sheltered corner for horn and orchestra (2011)
  • Black Untitled for trombone and ensemble (2013)
  • Violin Concerto (2015)
  • On the Threshold of Winter a monodrama in two acts (2012)[6]
  • Elegy for Strings (1993); winner of the American Composers Prize, conducted at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts by Marin Alsop
  • Trio No. 1 for violin, clarinet and piano (1995)
  • Trio No. 2 for violin, clarinet and piano (1998); commission by the Verdehr Trio
  • Piano Quartet (1999); commission and premiered by the Ellen Taafe Zwilich Young Composers Workshop at Carnegie Hall
  • Quartet for horn, violin, cello and piano; commission by the Orchestra of St. Luke's
  • After Hölderlin's Hälfte des Lebens for clarinet and cello (2000); written for the Belgian clarinetist Walter Boeykens for the Romaeuropa Festival
  • Two Pieces for cello and piano (2000)
  • Octet for Strings for 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos (2001); commission by Boris Pergamenschikow and the Kronberg Academy, premiered at the Schloss Neuhardenberg Festival in Berlin
  • After Hölderlin's Hälfte des Lebens for viola and cello (2002)
  • the wreckage of flowers: twenty-one pieces after poetry and prose of Czesław Miłosz, Sonata for violin and piano (2003); commission by Midori
  • Variations on a Poem for piano, violin and cello (2003); commission by Sequenza
  • Last Autumn for horn and cello (2008)
  • A Forest of Attics (2009)
  • Images from a Closed Ward for string quartet (2010)
  • Seven Pieces for Banjo and Cello (2012)
  • Zwischen Leben und Tod: twenty-two pieces after images by Peter Weiss for violin and piano (2013)
  • Carrion-Miles to Purgatory: thirteen pieces after texts of Robert Lowell for violin and cello (2015); commission by Hans Kindler Foundation Trust Fund in the Library of Congress
Solo instrumental
  • Sonata for unaccompanied viola (1993)
  • Sonata No.1 for unaccompanied cello (1994)
  • Sonata for unaccompanied violin (1999)
  • Sonata No. 2 for unaccompanied cello (2001); written for American cellist Daniel Gaisford
  • Five Fragments for violin solo (2004)
  • Caelum Dedecoratum for unaccompanied double bass (2006)
  • Fourteen Pieces for unaccompanied violin (2007)
  • in the snowy margins for unaccompanied violin (2010)
  • of ages manifest for unaccompanied alto saxophone (2012)
  • November Portrait for unaccompanied banjo (2012)
  • Of Sorrow Born: Seven Elegies for unaccompanied violin (2014)
  • Tramontane (2000)
  • Reflections on a Work of Henze (2001); performed by Hersch for Hans Werner Henze on the occasion of Henze's 75th birthday
  • Recordatio (in memory of Luciano Berio) (2003)
  • Two Pieces for Piano, a transcription of the first two movements of the Piano Concerto
  • Miłosz Fragments (2003)
  • The Vanishing Pavilions (2005); work after poetry of Christopher Middleton
  • Fantasy on Samuel Scheidt's "Es wolle Gott uns gnaedig sein" (2005)
  • Tenebrae (2010)
  • Two Lullabies" (2011)
  • Two Songs for soprano and piano (1993)
  • Elegy for baritone and piano (2000); poem by Theodore Roethke
  • It Was Beginning Winter for baritone and piano (2000); poem by Theodore Roethke
  • From Ecclesiastes for unaccompanied mixed chorus (1997)

Audio recording[edit]

Michael Hersch - the wreckage of flowers - Works for Violin

  • Michael Hersch: Complete Works for Solo String Instruments - Volume II
  • Label: Vanguard Classics (MC-105 )
  • Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano
  • Release Date: November 2010
  • Features Hersch's Five Fragments, Fourteen Pieces after texts of Primo Levi, both for unaccompanied violin, and the wreckage of flowers: 21 pieces after poetry and prose of Czeslaw Milosz

Michael Hersch: Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello

  • Michael Hersch: Complete Works for Solo String Instruments - Volume I
  • Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello
  • Label: Vanguard Classics (MCS-CD-104)
  • Daniel Gaisford, cello
  • Release Date: 2009
  • Review: by Vivien Schweitzer of The New York Times[7]

Michael Hersch - The Vanishing Pavilions

  • Label: Vanguard Classics / Musical Concepts (MC-101) [2-CD Box Set]
  • Michael Hersch, piano
  • Release Date: 2007

Michael Hersch: Chamber Music

  • Label: Vanguard Classics (ATM-CD-1240)
  • String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic
  • Michael Hersch, piano
  • Release Date: 2003

Hersch – Josquin – Rihm – Feldman

  • Label: Vanguard Classics (ATM-CD-1558)
  • Michael Hersch, piano; Daniel Gaisford, cello
  • Release Date: 2004

Michael Hersch • Naxos American Classics • Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Includes:
    • Symphony No. 2 (2001)
    • Fracta (2002)
    • Symphony No. 1 (1998)
    • Arraché (2004)
  • Label: Naxos 8.559281 (1 CD, 64 min). Released October 2006.[8]
  • Recording location and date: The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK; 6–7 June 2005.[9]
  • Review: Phillip Scott of Fanfare says "It is not difficult to hear why conductors of the caliber of Alsop and Jansons have championed the work of the young American composer Michael Hersch (b. 1971). He writes for orchestra with a sure hand. His Symphony No. 1 in one movement (1998) is indisputably a promising first essay in the genre; over a 27-minute span, the thematic material is developed with subtlety and imagination."[10]


  1. ^ iClassic.com interview of Hersch on the release of the Vanguard Classics Chamber Music CD in January, 2004.[1]
  2. ^ Music review of the world premiere of "The Vanishing Pavilions" - The Philadelphia Inquirer [2]
  3. ^ opera article in the New York Times by Vivien Schweitzer
  4. ^ BBC RADIO 3 - Hear and Now - Modern Muses, episode19 Michael Hersch and Patricia Kopatchinskaja discuss Hersch's Violin Concerto [3]
  5. ^ (Video) Michael Hersch: The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 6 / Michael Hersch, piano.[4]
  6. ^ opera review in the New York Times by Corinna da Fonseca-Wolheim
  7. ^ The New York Times, April 27, 2010.
  8. ^ Naxos product page. Accessed 18 November 2009.
  9. ^ Information accompanying the CD Naxos 8.559281.
  10. ^ Fanfare, 30:5 (May/June 2007). Subscription required. Accessed 18 November 2009.

External links[edit]