It’s a terrifically busy week at Penn. In addition to the Marilyn Nonken recital on Wednesday, Jan. 27 that begins the series of three “Eighty-Eight Lately” programs of contemporary piano music, there is a big array of events around this coming Sunday’s Curtis Institute performance of the Berio Sinfonia, led by Ludovic Morlot. Jamuna Samuel has organized talks and concerts that will look at Berio from many different points on the curve, so to speak. Click here for a detailed listing. The events include two talks by Christoph Neidhöfer; Tom Kraines playing the cello Sequenza, with Jim Sykes offering commentary; and a panel (in which I will participate) before a concert of Berio’s chamber music at Curtis on Saturday night.
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. The project is the result of a Fromm Foundation commission. 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 commissioned for the La Fenice Ensemble.
- songs for voice and piano on texts by William Blake, Sarah Williams, and Herman Melville.
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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