Michael Hersch’s The Vanishing Pavilions, originally released in 2007 as a 2-CD boxed set, is the first part of his ten-hour, three-part cycle, sew me into a shroud of leaves. The recording was released to acclaim on the Vanguard Classics/Musical Concepts label, with the composer at the keyboard.
The Vanishing Pavilions: Book I
The Vanishing Pavilions: Book II
The Vanishing Pavilions is divided into two books that encompass some fifty movements. Each book has its own discernible dramatic logic and shape, yet the two are indivisible. Approximately half of the movements were composed as companions to Middleton's poetic images; these are separated by a comparable number of intermezzi unrelated to any particular text. A dense web of motivic, harmonic and atmospheric relationships binds the whole together. And the density does not merely extend horizontally, from movement to movement, but is often expressed vertically, too, in elaborate layers of distinctly articulated musical ideas and characters. It is yet another technical challenge in a work that already requires extreme digital dexterity and strength.
The Vanishing Pavilions was premiered by the composer on October 14, 2006 at Saint Mark’s Church in Philadelphia. Hersch performed the vast, intricately detailed score entirely from memory. David Patrick Stearns of The Philadelphia Inquirer described the event as one that “felt downright historic.” He added, “The long-term trajectory of The Vanishing Pavilions is from music of polarized extremes to something more integrated, but harshly mirroring how elements of daily life that were unacceptable before Sept. 11  are confronted daily. Overtly or covertly, The Vanishing Pavilions is about the destruction of shelter (both in fact and in concept) and life amid the absence of any certainty. And though the music is as deeply troubled as can be, its restless directness also commands listeners not to be paralyzed by existential futility.” Stearns also praised Hersch's playing, writing that the composer "conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity."
– Andrew Farach-Colton
Recorded 18/19 December 2006 at the Peabody Institute of Music, Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, Baltimore
Recording Engineer: Ed Tetreault
Production/Editing: Ed Tetreault, Marc Stedman
Piano Technician: Mary Schwendeman
Music Published by 21C Music Publishing, Inc., New York
Poetry published by The Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale-on-Hudson, and Carcanet Press, Manchester
Translations — German: Brian Middleton, Katrin Holzhaus; French: Beth Curran
Poetry Translation — German: Wolfgang Justen
Poetry Translation — French: Francois Cornilliat
Mary Shaw Photography: Richard Anderson
A composer of “uncompromising brilliance” (The Washington Post) whose work has been described by The New York Times as “viscerally gripping and emotionally transformative music ... claustrophobic and exhilarating at once, with moments of sublime beauty nestled inside thickets of dark virtuosity,” Michael Hersch is widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation. Recent events and premieres include his Violin Concerto at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland and the Avanti Festival in Helsinki; new productions of his monodrama, On the Threshold of Winter, in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Washington D.C., and his I hope we get a chance to visit soon at the Ojai and Aldeburgh Festivals, where Mr. Hersch was a 2018 featured composer. Recent premieres include his 11-hour chamber cycle, sew me into a shroud of leaves, a work which occupied the composer for fifteen years, at the 2019 Wien Modern Festival. 2020/21 will see the premiere of his new opera, Poppaea, in Vienna and Basel as part of the Wien Modern Festival in a co-production with ZeitRäume Basel and Gare du Nord Basel / Netzwerk zur Entwicklung formatübergreifende Musiktheaterformen. During the 2019/20 season, Mr. Hersch has been named Composer-in-Residence with the Camerata Bern. In February 2020, his recent work Agatha saw performances in both Bern and Geneva.
Over the past several years, Hersch has written new works for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Klang, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Alban Berg Ensemble Wien, and the Library of Congress. Other notable recent events include European performances by the Kreutzer Quartet of Images from a Closed Ward in the U.K. and Sweden, a recording of the work by the acclaimed FLUX Quartet, a work for solo violin commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, premiered at the orchestra’s Biennial in 2014.
Recently Hersch has worked closely with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the violinist commissioning both his Violin Concerto, which premiered in 2015, and his chamber work ... das Rückgrat berstend, which premiered at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory during the autumn of 2017. She recently recorded the concerto with the International Contemporary Ensemble (I.C.E.), and the duo with cellist Jay Campbell. Most recently, Kopatchinskaja performed one of the solo roles in the world premiere of Agatha in Bern.
Notable past performances include Night Pieces, commissioned and premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra, and a song cycle for baritone and piano, Domicilium, commissioned and premiered by Thomas Hampson and Wolfgang Rieger on San Francisco Performances. Hersch’s second piano concerto, along the ravines, was given performances with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and as part of the George Enescu International Festival in Romania. Mr. Hersch’s end stages was commissioned and premiered by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, his Zwischen Leben und Tod recently received it’s European premiere, and A Forest of Attics, commissioned for the Network for New Music’s 25th anniversary season, was selected as one of the year’s most important classical music events by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The paper said of the work, “A Forest of Attics threw a Molotov cocktail into the concert: Everything before it paled in comparison ... Hersch has written some towering works in recent years; this is yet another.”
Also a pianist, noted for his “astounding facility at the keyboard” (International Piano), Mr. Hersch has appeared around the world including appearances at the Ojai Festival, Aldeburgh Festival, the Festival Dag in de Branding in the Netherlands, the Warhol Museum, the Romaeuropa Festival, the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., Cleveland’s Reinberger Chamber Hall, the Festival of Contemporary Music Nuova Consonanza, the Network for New Music Concert Series, the Left Bank Concert Society, 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.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1971, Michael Hersch came to international attention at age twenty-five, when he was awarded First Prize in the Concordia American Composers Awards. The award resulted in a performance of his Elegy, conducted by Marin Alsop in New York’s Alice Tully Hall. Later that year he became one of the youngest recipients ever of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. Mr. Hersch has also been the recipient of the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship and Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the President’s Frontier Award from the Johns Hopkins University, among other honors.https://www.michaelhersch.com/
"His pianistic technique is seemingly limitless and his expressive resources vast."
"This is music of raw, elemental gravity, which proceeds at its own unhurried pace. The music of each movement has an immediate, visceral impact; it sounds like it springs from, and speaks to, some deep, primordial place, unmediated by any system or even the niceties of compositional correctness. The variety that Hersch's tonal and gestural palette brings to each movement, as well as the music's restless, unpredictable rhythmic energy, commands the listener's attention. Hersch's performance is stunning in its vitality and virtuosity."
"Hersch's daring and personal musical language displays a magnificent spectrum of colors and textures right from the start. Concentrated listening is a necessity for the audience and since this is a work of such gigantic proportions, it is no journey for the weak-minded. The composer performs his own work on this release and does so with outstanding commitment and virtuosity, which only adds to the qualities of this fascinating recording."
"Your deepest fears and most monumental anger seem to aired and examined -- in music that's an artistic expression of the highest sophistication, and never more so than in The Vanishing Pavilions ... perhaps the most imposing work yet in an output that began imposingly more than a decade ago"
"This is an absolutely huge work that, despite its size, steadfastly refuses to sprawl. There is an urgency and terseness to Michael Hersch's writing that retains interest from first to last. The technical demands are vast. This is disquieting music, to be sure. It holds its spell not because it offers windows of hope but because it forces us to examine ourselves as we are now."