In Images from a Closed Ward, composer Michael Hersch has crafted a tone poem for string quartet inspired by the haunting images of Michael Mazur (1935–2009). By turns harrowing and uneasy, the work gives instrumental voice to something voiceless, finding a genuine grain of human experience in a dark, difficult place.
Art critic John Canaday, writing on Mazur’s etchings and lithographs of inmates from a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s, said the subjects “have the terrible anonymity of individuals who cannot be reached, whose ugly physical presence is the only symptom of a tragic spiritual isolation.” It was these images that resonated with Hersch, leading him to compose his first string quartet in almost twenty years. The highly regarded artists in residence at Vanderbilt University, the Blair String Quartet, who gave the work’s premiere and for whom it was written, deliver a definitive accounting on his innova Recordings release.
The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “Much of the piece uses the string quartet medium to create sonorities that might be paradoxically described as vividly pale, against which there are dabs of more bold colors or short themes, vaguely pointing in several possible directions that are left unpursued. Rarely is there a completed thought: All movements end inconclusively, often with several seconds of designated silence that freezes the musical idea in suspended animation. … Emphatic, fortissimo dissonance suggests unsolvable crisis. One movement tosses and turns, like an ill person trying to find a position without pain. … This isn’t at all what W.B. Yeats had in mind when coining the term ‘terrible beauty,’ but it fits.”
“It is the sound of a string quartet playing with rage and inconsolable sadness.” —ArtNowNashville