I am one of the composers interviewed in the October issue of the New York Flute Club Newsletter on the occasion of a recital by flutists Mimi Stillman and Bart Feller and pianist Charles Abramovic in New York on October 18. This is a reprise of a program first given in Philadelphia that includes a number of pieces inspired by Bach that Mimi commissioned, including my Badinerie Squared.

– Go here to view the trailer for the remarkable “Scriabin in the Himalayas” project featuring pianist Matthew Bengston.

– Music by Paul Moravec and Ethan Iverson can be heard in this NPR feature on pianist Anthony de Mare‘s new album of Sondheim re-imaginings.

– Read the speeches given by Michael Chabon, Terrance McKnight, and Yehudi Wyner at The MacDowell Colony’s Medal Day celebration in honor of the late Gunther Schuller here.

I enjoyed two coaching sessions last week with Mary Mackenzie and Heidi Williams. These two ladies will be performing most of my voice and piano song output later this year, and then recording almost all of that material for an eventual CD release. On Friday, November 20, at Florida State University in Tallahassee, they will perform:

  • Three Sacred Songs (arrangements of old plainchant melodies)
  • Holy the Firm (a big cycle I wrote for Dawn Upshaw)
  • the individual songs Waltzing the Spheres and Shadow Memory (texts by Susan Scott Thompson and Susan Orlean, respectively)
  • an arrangement of How Can I Keep from Singin? (dating from some 20 years ago, it was written for an all-Primosch show at the Cleveland Museum of Art)

The performance will also be given at Southern Mississippi University in Hattiesburg on Tuesday, November 17. I’ll be there in Florida, and will give a talk at FSU, but will have to miss my Mississippi debut – I’ll be in NYC for the Juilliard performance of From a Book of Hours.

Both of these women are quite fantastic musicians. I’ve known Mary for some time, and she has done my work beautifully on several occasions, including a performance and recording of my piece for modern instruments, early instruments, and choir, Sacred Songs and Meditations (that recording has been in the can for a while, I imagine the release shouldn’t be too far off.) Heidi was new to me, and she is a real find, getting a beautiful piano sound, capable of subtle rhythmic nuance, ably partnering Mary. The rather virtuosic piano writing in Holy the Firm holds no terrors for her. Check out her very impressive disc Drive American, with music by John Adams, Joan Tower, Daniel Crozier, Chen Yi, Augusta Read Thomas, and William Bolcom.

The individual songs mentioned above are not (yet) handled by Theodore Presser, my usual publisher. Check out sample pages from these songs on the score excerpts page. There is a recording of Shadow Memory (Lisa Williamson, soprano and Rami Sarieddine, piano) on the “solo voice” audio excerpts page. A video of Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, and Laura Ward, piano, doing Waltzing the Spheres is here. Send me an e-mail <jamesprimosch at gmail dot com> if you want purchase PDFs for any or all of these individual songs – click on the titles above to purchase the cycles.

Here is the inevitable post-coaching selfie. That’s Mary on the left, then Heidi in the middle.


88l8telyI was assigned a graduate composition seminar this fall at my day job, and decided to make composing for piano the focus. I further decided to plan a few recitals and talks relating to the course, under the title “Eighty-Eight Lately”, and with the support of a generous grant from Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, the following roster of events has taken shape, all on the Penn campus:
September 29, 2015: “The Spectral Piano” – a colloquium with Dr. Marilyn Nonken of New York University – read more below.
October 28, 2015: piano recital by Gregory DeTurck and myself. Greg will play works by Crumb, Perle, and Dutilleux, and I will offer the Berio Sequenza IV. UPDATE: this program has been postponed until February 17, 2016.
January 27, 2016: Marilyn Nonken will return to campus for a recital including pieces she mentioned in her talk this past week. The list of composers may bet tweaked a little, but the plan is for her to play Rakowski, Murail, Carrick, Dufourt, and Kuehn. The Carrick and Kuehn works will be premieres.
February 24, 2016: Matthew Bengtson and I will share a program. I’ll play one or two movements from the Martino Fantasies and Impromptus, and Matt will play Carter, Ligeti, Nancarrow, and Melinda Wagner. Mindy will give a talk on her music earlier that day.
The class so far has only met a few times. In these first meetings we have been spending time with some early 20th century classic, but the main focus of the class will be post-WWII. So far we have looked at:
– Debussy: various Preludes
– Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
– Copland: Piano Variations
– Ives: “Concord” Sonata
– Barber: Sonata
– Bartok: Sonata
– Schoenberg, Six Little Piano Pieces
We will look at the Webern Variations next, with Messiaen to follow.
Marilyn Nonken’s talk this past Tuesday drew upon her elegant and thoughtful book The Spectral Piano, and she talked about the spectralist attitude, with sound itself, – its overtone content and its characteristic attacks and decays – as the stuff of a composition rather than pitches or motives. She discussed the music of Murail, Grisey, Dufourt, and Edmund Campion, as well as playing for us a short work by Joshua Fineberg. You can see a video of the lecture here.

I just heard about an upcoming performance, too late for it to make it into the latest edition of my e-newsletter. (You can see the newsletter here, and sign up for future editions here.) Ensemble for These Times has programmed my From Psalm 116 for a concert at noon on October 29, 2015 at Laney College in Oakland, CA. Nanette McGuiness will sing, with Dale Tsang at the piano.

From Psalm 116 was written for an AIDS Quilt Songbook concert given in Philadelphia a number of years ago by Orchestra 2001. The text is in Latin, and translates as “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of His beloved”. I later incorporated the piece into the song cycle Dark the Star, the work that was done at Tanglewood this past summer. Here is a You Tube clip from the Bridge recording of Dark the Star, with William Sharp, baritone and the 21st Century Consort, Christopher Kendall conducting.


There will be music by George Crumb, Jay Reise, and myself (pictured above, left to right) at the September 26 concert advertised above. Ekaterina Kichigina, soprano, and Mikhail Duboc, piano will perform excerpts from my Holy the Firm. A bit more about the program here.

Orchestra 2001’s upcoming season is especially interesting this year as four very strong candidates will be leading concerts as part of the process to find a successor to founding artistic director James Freeman. There’s an article about this by Peter Dobrin. Jayce Ogren is first up, with a program this weekend including music by Mackey, Wolfe, Higdon and Andriessen.

These are quotes from Arnold Whittall’s Serialism in the Cambridge Introductions to Music series.

“The distinctiveness of American thinking about serialism is difficult to assess when opportunities to hear the compositional results are so limited.”

Have the Babbitt Solo Requiem, the Martino Triple Concerto or Wuorinen’s New York Notes ever been heard in London? My guess would be no, but maybe I am wrong.

“Le Marteau’s serial background projects surface interactions between fixity and freedom, its proliferating materials demanding choices of the composer at every stage of the creative process.”

Forgive me, but how does that make Le Marteau different from any other piece by any other composer? I’m not aware of any pieces where choices were not demanded of the composer at every stage of the creative process. (I suppose some Cage pieces would be the exceptions that prove the rule.)

It’s worth spending some time with Whittall’s book, from which I’ve learned a fair bit. It attempts something rather difficult in that it offers insights both into technical nuts and bolts matters and into the critical writing around serial music, all in a compact volume. Being a composer, my own interest is primarily in the nuts and bolts, and from that point of view, I would recommend another Cambridge volume more highly than the Whittall, Joseph Straus’s Twelve-Tone Music in America.

I just learned from my colleague Jay Reise that our vocal music is to be heard in Moscow this coming September 26 in a concert at the Myaskovsky Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Ekaterina Kichigina, soprano, and Mikhail Dubov, piano, will offer Jay’s Satori and excerpts from my own Holy the Firm. Works by George Crumb will also be heard.

The title of my piece is translated as “Holy Mighty” in the concert announcement, which is interesting because it brings to mind a traditional prayer in the Orthodox tradition called the Trisagion:

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Though I wasn’t thinking of the Trisagion (my title is borrowed from that of a book by Annie Dillard), perhaps the person preparing the announcement intended to recall it.

Ms. Kichigina performed my songs in Moscow last season, read more about that here.

Although I am a native of Cleveland, I don’t believe I ever visited Lake View Cemetery when I lived there. This stunning portfolio of photographs taken at Lake View by photographer Barney Taxel made me wish I had. University of Akron Press publishes a volume of these images.

I found my way to Parabola thanks to a post at Beth Cioffoletti’s blog louie, louie.