"I will assure you," composer Michael Hersch once told an interviewer, "that not everybody gets what I do, so when people do connect with it ... it means that there's something there that's worth pursuing."
One such connection Hersch chose to pursue was with the Blair String Quartet. On Friday, the BSQ will perform the world premiere of a work they commissioned from Hersch, Images From a Closed Ward. The commission was the third of three in the series The Blair Commissions: Music for the 21st Century, offered to contemporary composers on behalf of Blair ensembles.
The inspiration for the work came from Hersch's friendship with the American artist Michael Mazur. Hersch met Mazur in 2000 in Rome, where Mazur's exhibition of etchings The Inferno of Dante was being shown at the American Academy. "Although we worked in different mediums," Hersch said in the same interview, "I often felt that Mazur understood what I was doing better than most." In 2008, Hersch obtained some prints from Mazur's Closed Ward and Locked Ward series of etchings from the 1960s, which he hung in his workspace.
"My mind's ear started composing a string quartet around these images of Mazur's," Hersch said. "I was going to contact him." Unfortunately, Mazur died before Hersch could discuss his plans. But when the BSQ contacted Hersch, he was able to pay tribute to the artist who inspired him.
The ensemble's violist John Kochanowski summed up the group's feelings toward the work. "Michael has that ability to voice for four people in an extraordinary way. He really understands the conversational attitude, the parameters, the darkness, the ecstasy. We were excited by the possibility that he could be a great quartet composer."
The BSQ will open their concert with a piece of music that possesses a similar emotional base, but a diametrically opposite tonal vein — Franz Schubert's String Quartet in D Minor (D. 810), subtitled "Death and the Maiden." Although Schubert took the theme for the quartet's second movement from his earlier song "Der Tod und das Mädchen," the quartet probably has less to do with any assumed attitudes or pronouncements on death than it does with a purely musical attraction. Its first playing in 1826 came at the hands of two Schubert friends — and amateur musicians — who had encouraged Schubert to write the quartet simply because they liked the melody.
The Blair String Quartet consists of Christian Teal and Cornelia Heard, violins; John Kochanowski, viola; and Felix Wang, cello.
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