MICHAEL HERSCH (b.1971): Violin Concerto (Patricia Kopatchinskaya [violin], International Contemporary Ensemble; Tito Muñoz), End Stages (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra).
Catalogue Number: 08U067
Label: New Focus Recordings
Description: As we've observed before (03T077, 05Q093), Hersch is drawn to emotionally wrenching subject matter, and he has carved out a niche as the rare artist who can venture unflinchingly into the abyss in his work, and compel his audience to stare, unblinking, at the horrors he finds there. As frequent collaborator Miranda Cuckson (12M084) said in a recent interview: "Emotionally, you have dive into his world, and technically it’s demanding ... He is not someone who writes a scherzo in the middle." Since a cancer diagnosis in 2007 (he is currently in remission) and the death of a very close friend (from cancer) in 2009, Hersch's music has, if anything, become more raw and emotionally exposed. The 2015 concerto takes cues from some extremely bleak lines by Thomas Hardy. The four-movement work bears little resemblance to a conventional concerto, aside from the ferocious (in every sense) challenges of the solo part. The first movement begins violently, even brutally, with harsh, rough sounds from soloist and ensemble. The second movement features strained, astringent, pared-down textures and slowly shifting harmonies, beginning like an accompanied cadenza, then becoming more agitated. The long, slow movement that follows is the work's strange, dark heart, with serene, beautiful islands suggesting some archaic polyphony, repeatedly attacked as though an illuminated manuscript were being slashed at by barbarians violating a sacred ritual. A very slow, desolate epilogue concludes the piece. In light of the foregoing, the subject matter of End Stages is not hard to guess at. Hersch's subject here is the imminence of death; the eight short movements are inspired by drawings by artist Kevin Tuttle, who worked as set designer on Hersch’s monodrama On the Threshold of Winter. The drawings depict emaciated figures, ravaged by disease or chemotherapy, and the music progresses from dense, caustic textures to the strange, solemn beauty of final, grateful surrender.