Monday, February 6, 2017

Big Composer Award

Michael Hersch has been awarded $250,000 US by Johns Hopkins:
Michael Hersch, a composer known for extraordinarily complex and emotionally rich works, is the recipient of the 2017 President’s Frontier Award from Johns Hopkins University. Hersch will receive $250,000 "for research and innovation."
Hersch is an alumnus of the Peabody Institute of JHU, where he joined the faculty in 2006. He heads the composition department.
Peabody in Baltimore is one of the leading conservatories in the US.
Known for writing lengthy works -- his "Vanishing Pavilions" for solo piano lasts three hours, for example -- Hersch said that one possibility for the money is to help fund performances of large-scale projects "that no normal presenter would undertake."
Let's have a look at what is available on YouTube. Here is a brief section from his Vanishing Pavillions for piano performed by the composer:

I hope he would not be insulted if I said that I was reminded a bit of Olivier Messiaen's enormous Catalogue d'oiseaux? Here is another piece, a movement from his Symphony No. 3:

I'm glad to become acquainted with this composer that I am sorry to say I don't think I have heard of before.

One comment, though: the Baltimore Sun has an awful website. In order to pull out those brief quotes I had to fight through a mass of irrelevant and unrelated advertisements, videos of the People's Choice  Awards, more advertisements, videos about the Super Bowl, and more advertisements. The actual story was like an afterthought.

Now wouldn't it be interesting if Canada could ever find it possible to give a composer a substantial award like this...


Jives said...

hmmmm....he certainly has a style, but I can't say any of that wins my musical affections, or begs for repetition. Seems like another big prize for Big Modernism. I gather that the 250k will go towards producing ever longer, more assaulting, harrowing, cacophonous works. Music that no normal producer would mount, and that few normal people will appreciate. (sigh..) Is anyone doing "sweet and gentle" these days, or maybe just "pretty" ? The apparent absence of a social justice aspect is refreshing, although maybe that's buried in the program notes.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yep, you are right. As Dorothy Parker once said about Katherine Hepburn "she runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." As is so often the case with Big Modernism, it too runs the emotional gamut from less tortured to more tortured.

I was listening to an orchestral piece I wrote last night and was thinking to myself that the only problem seemed to be that it was too cheerful. Maybe I shouldn't try to fix that...

Maybe I should put a movement up and let you critique it?

Jives said...

Please do!