A Breath Upwards

A Breath Upwards

Breathing life into myth, and myth into life
Milton Babbitt
Michael Hersch
Ah Young Hong
Miranda Cuckson
Gleb Kanasevich
Jamie Hersch
Catalog Number: 
new classical
solo voice

Baltimore, MD

Release Date: 
Mar 23, 2018
Liner Notes: 
1 CD

A Breath Upwards

One Sheet: 

Music, song, and poetry have long enjoyed a stimulating relationship; coming together for expressive ends and sometimes colliding in dramatic showdowns. None more so than in these vocal works by two composers who often explore extremes, Milton Babbitt and Michael Hersch.

Babbitt’s Philomel (1964) was an audacious stab at recasting conventions of song (such as voice with accompaniment), by redistributing the text between live voice, recorded voice, and analog synthesizer. The fragmentary words and syllables by poet John Hollander retell Ovid’s story of the rape and subsequent transformation of Philomel into a nightingale; aptly paralleled by the metamorphosis of the human and artificial sonorities. Originally created for the extraordinary voice of Bethany Beardslee, this tour de force of vocal acrobatics has a new champion in Ah Young Hong who navigates the challenges with startling intensity.

Fifty years later, equally elegant, but perhaps darker and more unsettling is Michael Hersch’s a breath upwards (2014) for voice and ensemble that includes Miranda Cuckson, Gleb Kanasevich, and Jamie Hersch. Here the texts are from Dante’s Purgatorio and Ezra Pounds’ Cantos, again suggestive of tortuous travels through shadowy forests along with swooping birds. Together these giant works demonstrate the beauty of harrowing melancholy and elegantly profound depths of raw human emotion.

None of that would resonate without the astonishing talents of Baltimore soprano, Ah Young Hong. Her fervor, flawless accuracy, and riveting tone convey the myriad shards and flavors of the music with apparent ease and assurance. She serves as a comforting guide to the unknowable journeys of the soul.