UnknownThe Crossing, Philadelphia’s extraordinary new music choir, has just announced its 2014-15 season, and I am happy to say they will be reviving my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, which they premiered this past summer. The date is Sunday, June 21, 2015, as part of the group’s annual Month of Moderns festival – more info about the program here. You can see video of this past June’s performance by choosing the video link above. There are several posts about the piece below; perhaps start with this one. You can find more posts by clicking on “The Crossing” in the tag cloud found in the sidebar on the right.

A review by Joshua Rosenblum of my Sacred Songs album has appeared on the Opera News website. It’s only available for subscribers, so I’ll just offer a few quotes here:

“Primosch’s text-setting instincts are seemingly unerring: his vocal lines always convey the words authentically and honestly, while the instrumental accompaniment provides added depth and drama…”

“Soprano Susan Narucki, who sings three out of the four cycles, has musical intelligence to spare, as well as a clear, ingratiating delivery and sure intonation…”

“Baritone William Sharp uses his resonant, authoritative voice to provide a gripping, inexorable build…” [in the song cycle Dark the Star]

Corde Natus Ex Parentis” from the cycle Four Sacred Songs, has a straightforward, attractively contoured, plainchant-style melody, but the composer adorns it with imaginatively layered instrumental counterpoint in subsequent verses. “Christus Factus Est” has another clearly tonal melody, but the subtly dissonant leanings of the accompaniment form a painfully apt depiction of Christ on the cross.  Narucki’s performance of this quietly devastating number is a delicate marvel.”

“These songs are unfailingly compelling, whether the musical language is complex or seemingly simple… Christopher Kendall skillfully and sensitively leads the 21st Century Consort, which provides superb accompaniment.”

- An extraordinary event in Philadelphia today, Friday, and Saturday:  performances of all 14 Sequenzas of Berio, presented by Bowerbird. More info here.

- Memeteria has posted some recordings of composer George Walker‘s superb pianism.

- Da Capo Chamber Players offer an all-Shulamit Ran concert to open their 44th season in New York. Program notes here.

PiggyBankOnEmptyHere’s my contribution to the discussion about artist compensation from sale of digital media. I got my royalty statement from New World Records today for the album Icons, with the following figures for what I receive:

For the purchase of a physical CD: 52.25¢.

For the purchase of a digital download of the entire album: 39¢.

For a digital streaming of a single track from the CD: 1¢.

Four of the album’s seven tracks are available for individual download at Amazon, at a price of 99¢ each. The price for downloading the entire album is $8.99. This means, (if my arithmetic is correct) that my portion of the price for a digital download of the album is 4.338%. For a physical CD, selling for a discounted $9.99 through a secondary store via the Amazon site, the share is 5.230% (Other outlets charge $16.99 for the disc, in which case my share is 3.075%).  (My “share of the price” figures are different from the royalty rate, which is listed by New World as “8% Net on 90% sales”. I’m not sure exactly what that means.)

Streamings of one track or another outnumbered sales of physical CDs by about 37 to 1.

These figures are for the period Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2013.

As the saying goes, that and a token will get you on the subway.

Let me quickly say that I am not being critical of New World Records specifically – I imagine these are standard industry figures for classical, or at least comparable ones. New World Records is an admirable label that does an important service to new music, and I am grateful and proud to have an album with them.


UnknownIt’s so typical: I’ve got a commission and a due date for an oboe quartet, to be premiered by the superb Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music next April 26. I’ve got a decent start on that piece. But instead of staying focused on the quartet, a different project has been commanding my attention lately, one without a commission or due date. This is a little song on a text by Susan Orlean, pictured at left. She is the best-selling author of Rin Tin TinThe Orchid Thief, Saturday Night, and My Kind of Place, among other books, as well as being a staff writer for the New Yorker, and an avid Twitterer. Her short essay, “Shadow Memory”, anthologized in My Kind of Place, was originally a contribution to a book called Flowers in Shadow: A Photographer Discovers a Victorian Botanical Journal. I chose just the last paragraph of this piece. It is a beautifully crafted single sentence that speaks of “the little shadow each of us casts”. In my setting I’ve tried to capture the bittersweet flavor of the excerpt, which is carefully balanced between remembering and forgetting, between that which will “stay fresh forever, or forever slip away.”

No premiere has been set for the song yet, but I am in conversations about setting something up. The song just needs a little more polishing, and then it will be back to the oboe quartet, as well as a little piece for the Dolce Suono concert on January 18.

At one point tonight, I was listening to a song from 1923, played by a drummer born in 1935, with a pianist and bassist both about half the age of the drummer. It was the Tootie Heath Trio playing James P. Johnson’s “The Charleston” in a concert presented by Ars Nova Workshop at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. I felt like the whole history of jazz was vibrantly alive before my eyes and ears.

With Tootie on drums, Ethan Iverson at the piano, and Ben Street on bass, the group offered much musical joy.  Heath, a historic figure with a jaw- dropping discography, is truly a percussionist, not a drummer – there was some amazing tambourine playing tonight. The variety of colors, the endlessly imaginative ways of marking the ends of phrases, and the deeply swinging time – all this was combined with a wit alert to everything happening around him. Tootie also offered some remarks, including indescribable tall tales of growing up in Philadelphia, and various deliciously bad jokes.

It was fascinating to hear Iverson in a context more straight-ahead than that of The Bad Plus, the trio where he is most often heard. There were still Iversonian elements: the Monk influence; the preference for understatement; the absence of empty or rote flourishes; the strategy of sequencing a melodic cell regardless of the harmonic consequences – and then magically leading those consequences to a perfectly logical, albeit unexpected goal. His playing was also admirable simply as piano playing for its variety of colors, created with a variety of playing techniques: flat-tish fingers clinging to the keys for delicate nuances (as in a very touching “Memories of You”), more curved, pointed fingers for shouting passages.

I must admit I was paying most attention to Heath and Iverson, but I was struck by the warmth of Ben Street’s sound, enriched at times by elegantly executed double stops or pizz tremolo.

Iverson announced that the trio would be recording again in the next few days – that disc is instantly on my wish list.

Here’s Tootie, post-concert – dig the bowtie:IMG_0228


I thoroughly enjoyed the concert last week in Philadelphia by Ben Goldberg’s band Unfold Ordinary Mind. The foundational premise for the group is that instead of a bass player, Ben plays the bass parts on contra-alto clarinet, a rare instrument that is pitched between the standard bass clarinet and the contrabass instrument. The band also includes alto and tenor saxophones, guitar and drums. The result of this instrumentation – and the way Ben has written for it – is a rather large small group. The contra alto serves both as a rhythm section member – playing bass parts – and as the bottom end of a reed section. Nels Cline’s guitar also has multiple functions, working both as a rhythm section member and – thanks to Cline’s virtuosic transformations of his sound via various effects boxes – as another “section”, with its own array of colors. Cline is a unique player; I’ve never seen anyone manipulate real time sound processing gear with such uncanny speed. His tremolos are alarmingly dense, and he always can find a moment to quickly color a sound with the whammy bar. Still, his playing is not all nervous energy, he can groove as well.

Ben’s writing, and the band’s interpretation, relate to the Monk/Ornette region of jazz: the music is at once tuneful and adventurous. Ben can invoke musical archetypes (for example, the descending bass line in rock ballad tempo of Parallelogram), freshened because of the band’s instrumentation – but then in performance the players take the music to a more exploratory place. I was impressed with how Casey Knudsen, alto, and Rob Sudduth on tenor shaped their solos in long arcs. Drummer Allison Miller is an extroverted spirit, whose rambunctious energy nicely complements Cline’s more contained intensities. As for the leader himself, he was everywhere and nowhere – everywhere because the band’s book consists almost entirely of Goldberg originals, nowhere because of his self-effacing choice to cover the bass parts of the music rather than be in the front line where a wind player is normally found (when he does give himself the opportunity, he offers eloquent solo statements); everywhere because a bass line is inherently everywhere, directing harmony and groove; nowhere because his composing invokes archetypes that are bigger than he is; everywhere because of the fresh life he and his colleagues breathe into those archetypical forms. Zen mind is everyday, ordinary mind; long may Ben Goldberg continue to unfold the mysteries for us. Some blurry iPhone shots from the recent Philly gig at Boot and Saddle below, followed by video from the group’s subsequent appearance at the Saalfelden Festival in Austria.







The concert by The Crossing that included the premiere of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus will be heard on WRTI this coming Sunday, August 31, from 4 to 6 pm (Philadelphia time). You can listen online at the WRTI website. Read more about the Mass here, and about the broadcast here.

An mp3 download of clarinetist Lisa Oberlander‘s album Times Like These is now available at Amazon. Yien Wang is the pianist on the album, which is a nice mix of new music and older repertoire.

I wrote the title piece for Jean Kopperud and Stephen Gosling who recorded it for Albany. Lisa has now played it – brilliantly – several times, and recorded it for Potenza Records. I expect the physical CD will be available soon. Check out video of Lisa and Yien performing the piece by clicking on the “video” link above.

When asked what she’d be if she weren’t a poet, Salter said: “I’m a writer because I’m not a composer. That’s what I’d really love to be — a composer of long, complex symphonies and operas! To produce the wordless power of music, to move people in that way, has always seemed to me the highest artistic goal. I’m stuck with being better at words.”

From a post on The Writer’s Almanac on poet Mary Jo Salter.