David Patrick Stearns on “Alleluia”

Philadelphia Inquirer classical music critic David Patrick Stearns wrote about this past Sunday’s Mendelssohn Club premiere of my Alleluia on a Ground. You can read the full article here (note that the picture is a file photo and not from this past weekend), but here is the relevant portion:

…the best news that came out of this season-ending concert at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion is that two of Philadelphia’s world-class composers  wrote new pieces. [Robert Maggio was the other composer represented by a new piece.] Both were in top form, showing hugely different approaches toward the same text.

They program continued Mendelssohn’s mini-commissioning series of pieces written to the word Alleluia in honor of retired artistic director Alan Harler. For Sunday’s program, James Primosch and Robert Maggio delivered works that felt completely self contained but are full of ideas that should be continued into larger works.

Primosch’s Alleluia on a Ground began with unison vocal lines of such apparent simplicity that they could almost have been Gregorian chants. Yet subtle quirks pointed to a discreet individuality that would never have been heard in music from that world. Many vocal lines had what might be called a hinge note, opening a door into unanticipated but never radical directions. These created a web of contrapuntal writing at home in a religious text setting but going to places specific to Primosch, especially with background and foreground effects.

I like that idea of a “hinge note”, a gateway to a fresh direction. I also appreciated the mention of “background and foreground effects” – perhaps this was suggested most vividly by the juxtaposition of chords for the full chorus and a smaller subset of the group at the climax of the piece. Climactic or not, that three-dimensional effect is something I am always seeking.

I wish I could offer my own comments on the performance, but car trouble kept me from getting to the concert in time. I think it’s the first time I ever missed a premiere! Having heard two rehearsals, I know conductor Paul Rardin and the singers surely did a wonderful job.

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