Blair String Quartet presents debut performances of Michael Hersch commission


Kristin Whittlesey, Vanderbilt University

Christy Crytzer Pierce, PR Consultant


Successful world premiere held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville
Philadelphia premiere to follow at Christopher Cairns Studio
Tour to close with New York premiere at Carnegie Hall

Nashville, Tenn. (March 2, 2011) After a successful world-premiere performance in Nashville in February, the Blair String Quartet continues its three-city tour to debut “Images from a Closed Ward,” commissioned from and written for the ensemble by esteemed composer Michael Hersch.

The Philadelphia-area premiere will take place on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 4 p.m. in the Christopher Cairns Studio in Havertown, Pa., followed by the New York premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 5, 2012 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. Both programs also include a performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.”

“Hersch calls on his musicians to play vibrato-free and close to the bridge, resulting in a sound that calls to mind medieval church music,” said John Pitcher in his review of the February premiere at “It’s also a sound that is bright, brittle and cold, like a frozen landscape – or like an artificially lit hospital ward. … The Blair players … gave this challenging music a wonderful premiere. Throughout the performance, they were intensely in the moment, playing with precision and emotion.”

Vanderbilt University’s Blair String Quartet (Christian Teal, violin; Cornelia Heard, violin; John Kochanowski, viola; Felix Wang, cello) commissioned “Images from a Closed Ward” as part of “The Blair Commissions: Music for the 21st Century,” a commissioning project funded by the James Stephen Turner Family Charitable Foundation. Other commissions through this project have included works by Peter Schickele and Susan Botti.

“The Blair Commissions have allowed us to promote compositions by the world’s leading composers, while giving attention to the excellent ensembles and faculty members of the Blair School at Vanderbilt University,” said Mark Wait, dean of the Blair School. “We are honored that world-renowned composer Michael Hersch is also a part of this innovative project.”
“Images from a Closed Ward” is a 13-movement, 45-minute work that was inspired by etchings from the late visual artist Michael Mazur of mental institutions in the 1960s. The work incorporates expressive markings ranging from “longing, quiet, extreme grief” to “raging violently throughout.” While Hersch has written for a broad range of instrumentation, “Images from a Closed Ward” is his first string quartet in 20 years.

“The catalyst for ‘Images from a Closed Ward’ came from two groups of etchings I encountered by Michael Mazur, who was also a friend,” explains Hersch. “The images are devastating ones, and they had a profound impact on me. The fact that visual art became something of an ignition point for my work was a very new experience.”

“This piece pushes the boundaries of a traditional quartet’s soundscapes,” said Wang. “The voice that you hear in this music is highly personal and original. We are extremely proud to work with Michael and to premiere this deeply moving quartet.”

Tickets to the Philadelphia-area performance are free, but a donation is suggested. The studio of Christopher Cairns is located at 2130 Darby Road in Havertown, Pa. For more information, call 610-789-3686.

Tickets to the New York premiere at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall are $25 and can be purchased by calling 212-247-7800 or by visiting


Blair String Quartet

The Blair String Quartet has been praised for combining “technical expertise and emotional fire.” The Washington Post calls them simply “a marvelous ensemble.” Following a contemporary music concert at Rice University, the Houston Post stated, “The Blair String Quartet is a composer’s dream.” Widely acclaimed in performances across the country, the Quartet has enhanced its national reputation through appearances at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, New York’s 92nd Street Y and Merkin Concert Hall, in addition to their premiere performance at Carnegie Hall.

The Quartet has performed widely on National Public Radio and was featured for several years on a public television series called Recital Hall. They have recorded for labels including Warner Brothers and New World Records, and Naxos Records recently released their recording of the String Quartets of Charles Ives, which has been widely praised in reviews and was a selected “CD of The Month” for Naxos. Some of their residencies have been at the Aspen Music Festival, the Sedona Chamber Music Festival and Dartmouth College, and they have been the Quartet-in-Residence for the Classical Fellowship Awards competition of the American Pianists Association, and the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

Well-known as interpreters of the standard repertoire, the Quartet is making a name for itself by championing contemporary American composers. Composers who have written pieces for the group include Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck (Quintet for Banjo and String Quartet, featured on PBS series Lonesome Pine Special), George Tsontakis, Morton Subotnick and Ellsworth Milburn.

In residence at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, members of the ensemble are Christian Teal and Cornelia Heard, violins; John Kochanowski, viola; and Felix Wang, cello. For more information about the Blair String Quartet, please visit:

Michael Hersch, composer

Widely considered among the most gifted composers of his generation, Mr. Hersch’s work has been conducted in the U.S. and abroad by conductors including Mariss Jansons, Alan Gilbert, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Carlos Kalmar, Yuri Temirkanov, James DePriest, and Gerard Schwarz, and has been performed by the major orchestras of Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Cincinnati, Seattle, Oregon, Singapore, and ensembles including the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, among others.

He has written for such soloists as Garrick Ohlsson, Thomas Hampson, Midori, Boris
Pergamenschikow, Shai Wosner, and Walter Boeykens. His solo and chamber works have appeared on programs throughout the world – from the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center to the Philharmonie in Berlin; from the British Museum and the Dartington New Music Festival in the U.K., to the Romaeuropa Festival in Italy; from Tanglewood in Boston to the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Recent projects include his Symphony No. 3, commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival for Contemporary Music, and major works for the Cleveland Orchestra, the Blair String Quartet, and the Network for New Music.

Also regarded as among today’s most formidable pianists, Mr. Hersch has appeared throughout the U.S. and Europe. Born in Washington D.C. in 1971, Michael Hersch first came to international attention at age twenty-five, when he was awarded First Prize in the American Composers Awards. Other awards include the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. Mr. Hersch currently heads the Department of Composition at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

For more information, visit: