Composer Michael Hersch Presents World Premiere of His Two Pieces for Cello and Piano

For composer Michael Hersch, the summer brought two important world premieres: his monumental Third Symphony, whose “granitic force” (Financial Times) “impresse[d] with sheer sonic weight and intensity” (San Jose Mercury News) at the Cabrillo Festival, and his unaccompanied violin work, in the snowy margins, which Grammy Award-winner Peter Sheppard Skaevard debuted at the Dartington Festival in England. It was Sheppard Skaevard’s repeat performance on September 23 at the British Museum that launched Hersch’s new season, in which the composer also looks forward to the release of his new CD, the second volume of his complete works for solo strings, due November 23 from Vanguard Classics; the world premiere of his Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, for which he will accompany veteran Hersch specialist Daniel Gaisford in Washington DC on November 7; and further performances in New York City and Nashville TN early in the new year.

This coming Sunday, November 7 sees Hersch’s first world premiere of the season, when he joins cellist Daniel Gaisford to perform his Two Pieces for Cello and Piano (2010) at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, the nation’s first modern art museum. Hailed as “America’s greatest unknown cellist” (Philadelphia Inquirer), Gaisford is the dedicatee of the new work; Hersch explains:

“While I have written several solo cello works for him, Daniel has asked over the years if I might write some new works especially for us to perform together. Although it took almost ten years, these two pieces are the result and are dedicated to him.”

Gaisford also gives the Washington premiere of Hersch’s Sonata No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello on the same program; after his world premiere performance of the work, the New York Times praised Hersch’s “extraordinarily communicative music,” and continued:

“Hersch’s music speaks for itself eloquently. ... [The first] Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello [is] an arching 35-minute work that amply repays the considerable demands it makes on a cellist’s technique and interpretive imagination. Daniel Gaisford’s spectacular performance was particularly gripping in the work’s extroverted finale.”

It was Gaisford’s recording of the demanding Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello that made up the critically prized first installment of Vanguard Classics’ three-disc survey of the composer’s music for solo string instruments. Now, on November 23, the label releases the second volume – the wreckage of flowers – featuring Miranda Cuckson in Hersch’s complete violin works. All world-premiere recordings, the new album comprises two works for unaccompanied violin – Five Fragments (2004) and Fourteen Pieces after texts of Primo Levi (2007) – and the wreckage of flowers: 21 pieces after poetry and prose of Czeslaw Milosz (2003), on which the violinist is joined by pianist Blair McMillen. According to Cuckson, “a brilliant young performer who plays daunting contemporary music with insight, honesty, and temperament” (New York Times):

“Hersch’s music forms a unique world; one highly recognizable as his own and difficult to associate closely with stylistic movements. He uses spare materials to grippingly visceral effect, packing the utmost expression into very simple bits of material.”

The new title is Vanguard’s fifth recording of Hersch’s works, a rare honor for a composer not yet 40. His second disc for the label was selected by both the Washington Post and Newsday as one of the most important recordings of 2004-05, while his fourth – the first volume of the present series – was glowingly reviewed by the New York Times:

“The riveting piece [Sonata No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello] [is] given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford. … The intensity and communicative power of this sonata, at times an anguished lament, is typical of much of Mr. Hersch’s work. … The reflective second movement, a showcase for Mr. Gaisford’s rich, penetrating tone and searing musicality, ebbs and flows into the harmonically rich final movement, with its virtuoso challenges and almost brutal intensity. Mr. Gaisford… offers a mesmerizing performance of Mr. Hersch’s seven-movement Sonata No. 2.”

The third and final disc in the series, due for future release by Vanguard Classics, will comprise Hersch’s music for viola and double bass.

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