Ah Young Hong: A Breath Upwards

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 composed the work for Bethany Beardslee, whose voice is heard on the tape with the synthesized sounds. In this new recording from Innova, soprano Ah Young Hong effectively matches Beardslee’s timbre so the sections where the live and recorded voices have interplay provide the intended echo effect. One set of notes on the piece says that it requires a singer “with perfect pitch, outstanding command of rhythm, and total control of dynamic contrasts.” Hong clearly has all these—and an unfailingly lovely sound to boot. The piece is extraordinarily difficult. (Beardslee’s autobiography is called I Sang the Unsingable.) Hong’s unexpectedly sweet-toned traversal is on par with Beardslee’s fierce original, which is saying a lot. It’s good to be able to revisit this intriguing work, courtesy Hong’s fearlessness and consummate artistry.
Hong also performs A Breath Upwards, a new song cycle for soprano, clarinet, horn and viola by Michael Hersch (b. 1971). ...Even at its most astringent, Hersch’s music always has something compelling and insightful to say. This piece is as vital and original as any of today’s music." [Full Article]
Opera News (September 2018 — Vol. 83, No. 3)

"Soprano Ah Young Hong is a wonder. She has a remarkable sound and seemingly limitless technique. Her performance of the two daunting works on this disc, Milton Babbitt’s Philomel and Michael Hersch’s a breath upwards, is nothing short of breathtaking." [FULL ARTICLE]
Burning Ambulance

"... Hong’s incredible voice, from its growly bottom end to pure high notes that are shrill yet warm, and never grating." [FULL ARTICLE]
The Whole Note

"As the publicity text for this release promises, soprano Ah Young Hong’s 'fervour, flawless accuracy and riveting tone convey the myriad shards and flavours of the music with apparent ease and assurance.' Her voice is again balanced as an equal amongst the other instruments ... Sharply etched and potently communicative, this is a recording that no fan of challenging modern vocal music should be without ... you will find this production sticks around in the memory for longer than you might expect." [FULL ARTICLE]
MusicWeb International

"Hong explores vocal works by composers Milton Babbitt and Michael Hersch in this striking release on the Innova Recordings label. In the works of the two contemporary American composers, she conveys the feeling that drives the often complex modern music ... an intense musical experience ... Her voice can pierce or whisper as it breathes life into the spare modernity of the music. She distills the emotion and delivers it along with the notes, by turns eerie, agitated, dreamy. Hong's superb vocal facility, along with the able instrumental accompaniment, highlights the sheer beauty of the works while drawing the listener into the emotional heart of the music on a grand scale." [FULL ARTICLE]
Art and Culture Maven

"Hong is a phenomenal vocalist ... Her pitch and timbre control are outstanding and the dramatic verve she brings to the music is exactly what is needed to put these works in an ideal place ... landmark performances of two landmark works..." [FULL ARTICLE]
Gapplegate Classical Modern Review