Composers Datebook®

Michael Hersch's Symphony No. 2

Michael Hersch (b. 1971) Symphony No. 2 Bournemouth Symphony; Marin Alsop, cond. Naxos 8.559281

Composers Datebook for April 26, 2017


April 26, 2017


On today's date in 2002, Mariss Jansons led the Pittsburg Symphony in the premiere performance of the Second Symphony written by a then 32-year-old American composer named Michael Hersch.

Hardly a child prodigy, Michael Hersch was introduced to classical music at age 18 by his brother Jamie, who showed him a videotape of Georg Solti conducting Beethoven's Fifth. That experience shook him. "It scrambled everything." Hersch recalled. "That's when I knew that I was to be a composer... My whole life started over at that moment."

Hersch certainly made up for lost time, exhibiting an uncanny ability to master both the piano and the intricacies of contemporary compositional techniques in less than a decade.

His first success as a composer came when his "Elegy for Strings" won a major prize and was conducted by Marin Alsop at Lincoln Center in New York in 1997. Since then his works have been commissioned and performed by many other leading orchestras and performers.

Tim Smith of The Baltimore Sun described Hersch's work as, "music of astounding, even thrilling, complexity; music that can be hard to grasp, yet impossible to let go of; and music of stark, unsettling, seemingly implausible beauty."

Hersch's Symphony No. 2 has no stated program, but it was composed shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, and knowing that, it's hard to disassociate the score's violent opening and subsequent elegiac mood from that tragic moment in American history.

Music Played in Today's Program

Michael Hersch (b. 1971) Symphony No. 2 Bournemouth Symphony; Marin Alsop, cond. Naxos 8.559281

On This Day


  • 1951 - American composer John Alden Carpenter, age 75, in Chicago;

  • 1991 - French-born American composer and arranger Leo (Noël) Arnaud, age 86, in Los Angeles; His tune "Bugler's Dream" (written for a Felix Slatkin LP) became used as a familiar theme for the Olympic Games;


  • 1738 - Handel: opera "Serse," (Julian date: April 15);

  • 1899 - first version of Sibelius: Symphony No. 1, by the Helsinki Philharmonic, with the composer conducting; A revised, final version of this symphony was performed by the same orchestra on tour in Stockholm on July 4, 1900, conducted by Robert Kajanus;

  • 1915 - Hindemith: String Quartet No. 1 in C, Op. 2, at Dr. Hoch's Conservatory in Frankfurt;

  • 1959 - John Cage: "Fontana Mix," in New York City;

  • 1965 - Ives: Symphony No. 4, at Carnegie Hall by the American Symphony Orchestra, with Leopold Stokowski (assisted by David Katz and José Serebrier);

  • 1970 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical 'Company"; A trial-run in Boston preceded the Broadway premiere;

  • 1990 - John Harbison: Concerto for Double Brass Choir and Orchestra, in Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, André Previn conducting;

  • 2002 - Michael Hersch: Symphony No. 2, by the Pittsburgh Symphony, Mariss Jansons conducting;


  • 1891 - Tchaikovsky arrives in New York to take part in the May 5, 1891, opening concert at New York's newly-constructed "Music Hall"(later known as "Carnegie Hall”).

  • 1926 - American premiere of Monteverdi's 1642 opera "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" (The Coronation of Poppea), at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.