Blog: Secret Geometry

Latest Recordings (pinned post)

Carthage is a survey of my choral music by two-time Grammy-winners The Crossing, including three pieces written on commission from them, and three more composed for Emmanuel Music. There are settings here of texts by Meister Eckhart, Marilynne Robinson, E. E. Cummings, Thomas Merton, and Wendell Berry. The major work on the disc is the Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, which interweaves a setting of the Latin Mass with poems by Denise Levertov reflecting on the Mass texts. Donald Nally conducts on a Navona disc. Find it online here. Read a review from AllMusic here.

Descent/Return features five of my songs with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough as well as the piano preludes that make up the set Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift. The title track is extracted from my cycle for soprano and ensemble, A Sibyl, setting poems written specifically for the project by Susan Stewart.  John Harbison’s song cycle Simple Daylight and his Piano Sonata No. 2 complete the album. (None of the songs on Vocalisms are duplicated on Descent/Return.) Go to the Albany Records website to order. American Record Guide says about Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift: “there’s marvelous variety in tempo and mood…” and on the songs included on the album: “I find myself enchanted by his lucid text setting…”

Vocalisms is a grand two-disc anthology of songs by four composers: Ned Rorem, John Harbison, Daniel Crozier, and myself. Mary Mackenzie sings 10 of my songs, including the Three Folk Hymns and the complete Holy the Firm, originally written for Dawn Upshaw. The pianist is Heidi Williams. Again, find it at Albany Records.

Sacred Songs offers four song cycles for voice and chamber ensemble, with Susan Narucki singing From a Book of Hours, Four Sacred Songs, and an orchestrated version of Holy the Firm while William Sharp sings Dark the Star. Christopher Kendall conducts the 21st Century Consort on a Bridge Records release.

The “C” Word

I have not been posting here for a while, and I don’t anticipate doing a lot of posting anytime soon; here is why: I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early September. I have begun chemotherapy; the side effects are not too bad just yet. The plan is for surgery to follow the chemo. Because I’ll be focussed on my treatment and on getting well, it’s mostly going to be quiet around here, though I may check in from time to time.

Of course, while you are here, you still have plenty of resources to explore, with audio and video clips and much more.

I will be grateful for the prayers of those of you who are of the praying kind.

“Holy the Firm” at Token Creek’s virtual festival

The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival – like all such organizations this summer – cancelled its in-person activities. Instead, the Festival is offering an array of archival recordings, including a program of vocal music that includes excerpts from my Holy the Firm. The soprano is Sarah Yanovitch, and I’m at the piano. Sarah does a great job, and there’s a remarkable array of singers and pianists on the playlist: Krista River with Judith Gordon; Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough; Janice Felty and Craig Smith; Simon Barrad and Token Creek co-artistic director John Harbison; and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with Steven Blier. I can attest to the excellence of the performers from first hand experience. Judy premiered my Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift; Lucy and Ryan are the performers on my recently-issued CD, Descent/Return;  Janice and I performed together at SongFest a number of years ago; and Craig Smith premiered some of my choral motets with Emmanuel Music. (Re-reading that last sentence, I have to say I’ve been a pretty lucky composer.) You can hear the program here, and read my post from the time of the performance in 2018 here. The picture above shows the interior of the festival barn in rural Wisconsin, while the one below shows Sarah and I in action.

 

“Text Message”

The Pennsylvania Gazette, which is the alumni magazine of my employer, the University of Pennsylvania, has a new piece about me, prompted by the events of this spring – the Virgil Thomson Award and the two new CDs. Given the vocal orientation of those events, the author, Molly Petrilla, came up with the title “Text Message”, a nice bit of wordplay. You can read the article here.

Interview and Video in Penn’s Omnia

Omnia is the magazine of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, and the journal has just issued an interview with me on the occasion of the Virgil Thomson Award I received earlier this year from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. You can read the interview here, and here is the video associated with the interview:

James Primosch | “Carthage” and “Descent/Return” from Penn Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.

Recent Listening – American Composers

Some of these are new, some are not, but all are worthy of your attention. Excellent performances as well.

Paul Moravec: Sanctuary Road. Oratorio Society of New York, Kent Tritle. Naxos.
Another substantial choral work by Paul on an American theme, after his The Blizzard Voices – in this case, the theme is the Underground Railroad,  There is a generosity to the writing that suits the grand forces and the big topics.

Paul Schoenfeld, Steven Stucky, John Harbison: Three American Violin Sonatas. Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Jon Kimura Parker, piano. Naxos
Eclectic, effective writing from Schoenfeld; one of the works in traditional genres to which Stucky turned late in life; always thoughtful, always fresh Harbison.

George Perle: Serenades. Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose conductor. Wenting Kang, viola; Donald Berman, piano. BMOP/sound
Ranging from 1962 (Serenade No. 1 for viola and chamber orchestra) through 1968 (Serenade No. 2 for eleven players) and on to 1983 (Serenade No. 3 for piano and chamber orchestra). Though they range over 21 years, Perle’s coherent harmonic language and witty rhythmic gestures obtain throughout. I think the best item here is No. 3 – I believe I was at the premiere in NYC!

Gerald Levinson: Now Your Colors Sing. various performers. Innova.
A splendid 2-cd survey of work by a composer truly deserving of a much higher profile. A student of Messiaen and Crumb, a visitor to Bali, Levinson’s music is more than the sum of those influences. Extraordinarily refined harmony, highly colorful orchestration, clear and expressive formal shapes, all at the service of a profound expressive impulse.

John Harbison: String Trio; Four Songs of Solitude; Songs America Loves to Sing. Camerata Pacifica. Harmonia Mundi.
At the moment, the compositional pendulum has swung back to the exploration of extended instrumental techniques of the kind that were of interest in my earliest student days. Given that context, it’s a pleasure to hear pieces where the pitches really matter. There’s a big serious string trio, a group of four lyrical violin pieces, and a set of pieces based on American folk and traditional tunes, written in the hope that the tunes would work the way the chorales work in Bach’s music, as part of a shared repertoire among listeners. I’m afraid the tunes are not as widely known as they may once have been, but, as with Bach, you can still enjoy the compositional ingenuity, the brilliant instrumental writing, and the sheer rollicking joy of this music.

Essay on “Sparks and Wiry Cries”

An essay on my song catalog that I wrote for the art song website Sparks and Wiry Cries, was posted today. In it, I talk about how I came to write songs, and say a bit about many of those pieces. There are a number of video links to performances by Mary Mackenzie, Susan Narucki, William Sharp, and Lucy Fitz Gibbon, whose recently released CD features five of my songs. I also talk about my work with the poetry of Susan Stewart in a number of pieces.

There’s a lot of good material on Sparks and Wiry Cries website. Founded by Martha Guth and Erika Switzer, the organization’s name comes from a Ned Rorem song that sets a Paul Goodman text. S&WC sponsors the SongSLAM competition and festival, and the website includes articles and podcast interviews with composers and performers.

Thank you to Sparks and Wiry Cries for the invitation to write this essay!

Brooklyn Art Song Society announces 20-21 virtual season

It does the heart good to see a performing organization commit to a new season given the state of performing arts today. The Brooklyn Art Song Society has announced it will stream its entire 20-21 season – details here. I’m happy to be included on the May 15 program. James Reece will sing my Two Whitman Love Songs, with Danny Zelibor, piano. By the way, Jimmy is heard on my recent album with The Crossing, which tells you something about how fine a musician he is.

Michael Bronfman, BASS artistic director, speaks about the May 15 program in this video.

Broad Street Review on “Descent/Return”

descent return cover

Peter Burwasser has reviewed “Descent/Return” for the Broad Street Review. He writes:

Primosch tends to work with a large stylistic toolbox. His vocal writing, as displayed on this album, certainly reflects this catholic manner. In addition to the Stewart settings, there are three short songs at the end of the program, including an homage to an old astronomer that includes sparkling impressionistic patterns on the upper end of the keyboard that suggest the starry night sky. There’s also a bouncy and fun musical take on the art of baseball pitching, and finally, a setting of “Who Do You Say That I Am” by Kathleen Norris that is full-blown post-Romantic, replete with a soaring, dramatic, Wagnerian vocal line and big, pealing piano chords that could have been written by Rachmaninoff…

Pure Contraption/Absolute Gift, a suite of five piano miniatures from Primosch, includes music inspired by poetry (specifically that of Stephen Crane and W.H. Auden). The pieces are, at turns, whimsical, dreamy, buoyant, and at all times, thoughtful.

Performances by the husband-and-wife team of Ryan MacEvoy McCullough and soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon, who worked with both composers to realize this recording, are magnificent.

Read the whole thing here.

From the Reading Journal, #33a and #33b

“In mystical literature such self-contradictory phrases as “dazzling obscurity,” “whispering silence,” “teeming desert,” are continually met with. They prove that not conceptual-speech, but music rather, is the element through which we are best spoken to by mystical truth.”

“We and God have business with each other, and in opening ourselves to his influence our deepest destiny is fulfilled.”

– from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James