I was happy to see David Patrick Stearns’s positive comments on The Crossing‘s recent concert here in Philly, including some nice words about my piece, Spiralling Ecstatically. David remarks that he doesn’t usually associate me with choral music, which is pretty reasonable, given the fact that my choral music is not widely performed – I suffer, like so many composers, from second performance syndrome. But the fact is that I have written about a dozen choral pieces, five of them since the turn of the century. I am in the process of circulating a batch of scores among choral directors, and perhaps something will come of that; also, I hope the Mendelssohn Club’s CD on Innova of Fire-Memory/River-Memory will have an impact. For now, I’ll direct you to my website, where there is a listing of my choral works, plus some audio and score clips (note that the “chorus” webpage does not yet include the two most recent motets, Two Arms of the Harbor, and Gaudete in Domino).
James Primosch – composer
When honoring him with its Goddard Lieberson Fellowship, the American Academy of Arts and Letters noted that "A rare economy of means and a strain of religious mysticism distinguish the music of James Primosch... Through articulate, transparent textures, he creates a wide range of musical emotion." Andrew Porter stated in The New Yorker that Primosch "scores with a sure, light hand" and critics for the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Dallas Morning News have characterized his music as "impressive", "striking", "grandly romantic", "stunning" and "very approachable".
Primosch’s compositional voice encompasses a broad range of expressive types. His music can be intensely lyrical, as in the song cycle Holy the Firm or dazzlingly angular as in Secret Geometry for piano and electronic sound. His affection for jazz is reflected in works like the Piano Quintet, while his work as a church musician informs the many pieces in his catalog based on sacred songs or religious texts.
His music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Lydian, Daedalus, Cavani, Cassatt, Ying, and Miami string quartets, the 21st Century Consort, the New York New Music Ensemble, Network for New Music, Dawn Upshaw, Lisa Saffer, Janice Felty, and Lambert Orkis. 18 of his compositions have been recorded for Albany, Azica, Bard, Bridge, CRI, Centaur, Innova, and New World labels.
For more information, click the "biography" link in the menu above, or visit the links below.
- a cycle of songs for soprano and chamber ensemble. Susan Stewart, whose poetry I have set in three previous pieces, has written new poems specifically for this project, to be called "A Sibyl".
- a choral setting of an excerpt from the novel "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson.
- a new work for oboe, violin, viola, cello, and piano.
- songs for voice and piano on texts by Kathleen Norris, William Blake, and Christina Rossetti.
- arrangements of "Be Thou My Vision" and "What Wondrous Love is This?" for voice and piano.
David Patrick Stearns on “Songs for Adam”
If there's anything out there like Primosch's Songs of Adam, I haven't heard it - though the music wears its singularity lightly, with no need to express itself radically. It has a confidence of expression that comes of Primosch's having written a steady stream of song cycles since the late 1990s. Composers are still drawing legitimate inspiration from poets of the increasingly distant past, such as Walt Whitman, but Primosch pushes both himself and thus his listeners onto new ground with Susan Stewart's verse, which are called songs in their printed version because they suggest music, especially in the first poem, in which Adam is stuttering his way into existence.
Both poet and composer share an ability to contemplate how basic elements of existence might feel for the first time, and the duo know how to capture that in their respectively cultivated vocabularies, with an emotional rightness that never becomes too analytical.
In fact, Primosch enters the Korngold zone when describing Adam's intoxication with the word. Though words are set dramatically and in ways that are well written for the voice, the best moments are in the masterly orchestration, which gives an extra percussive spark to moments of discovery and unflinchingly confronts the agony of Adam's expulsion from Eden.
The pale strings capture his disappointment in the real world in an overall dramatic arc that's almost epic, going from the unimaginable (the beauty of Eden) to the unthinkable (the world's first children, Abel and Cain, and the world's first fratricide).
-Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 2010
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