Hersch’s music

I have performed eleven works by Michael Hersch so far. He has a grippingly expressive language and sense of harmony, evident throughout his oeuvre.
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The solo violin piece titled “the weather and landscape are on our side” conveys serious emotional substance through particularly delicate and subtle means. There are a few loud outbursts but it is mostly very eerie and sometimes whispers on the verge of silence. In this piece, he used certain non-pitched extended techniques for the first time and, also for the first time, has the violinist briefly sing softly while playing, rather like in the Luigi Nono piece I play. The piece also involves playing some very high pitches and very close intervals with precision and sensitivity, sometimes quietly, sometimes at higher volume.

His piano music stems from his extraordinary talent as a pianist. Michael keeps his playing mostly out of public view, but his playing is displayed on the documentary film, “The Sudden Pianist”. His piano writing exploits the inherently massive power of the instrument and makes innovative use of the pedals along with a variety of articulations. The built-in time/space (rests and phrase lengths) in his works allows for chords to shoot into the air and literally hang there for long seconds, so that we listen as the pitches within harmonies move around kaleidoscopically and slowly dissolve. The dimensions of the instrument’s sound-producing capacity and the variety he draws from within that sound suit his wish to write large works that use its extremes.

He has written a lot of solo and chamber music for strings. These pieces feature chordal and double-stop playing, use of the bright open strings, and wild, fast and furious movements equivalent to those in the piano works. There is an emphasis on harmonies, fully sustained polyphony and the throbbing vibration of pitches against each other. His approach to string sound is specific: he stipulates a sound that is non-vibrato or uses vibrato sparingly, and often employs degrees of ponticello or tasto. Using this approach the player can dissipate the core of the tone and the pieces often tend, unlike his piano music, toward the fragile and intimate. There is only so long a resonance or loud an attack that any stringed instrument will produce, even with open strings, but the variety and range of nuances of bow friction can be infinite.

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