CD coverThis CD is devoted to my music for voice and ensemble, and has been released by Bridge Records. Susan Narucki and William Sharp are the soloists; Christopher Kendall conducts the 21st Century Consort. It’s available at Amazon and at Arkiv Music. Scroll down for several more posts about the album. A review by Christian B. Carey on the Musical America website is here; another is at Audiophile Audition, by Steven Ritter. Composer Daniel Asia discusses the album at the Huffington Post here.

I mistakenly tweeted yesterday about the new work by my Penn colleague Anna Weesner as an oboe quartet, but it’s actually a quintet – string quartet and oboe. This is the piece of hers we will hear on the upcoming concert at Penn (this Friday, 3/24) with Peggy Pearson and the Daedalus Quartet – go here for more details on the concert. Read an interview with Anna at the Winsor Music website (in connection with the Boston performance of the piece on Sunday, 3/26). Here’s Anna’s program listing and note for the new quintet:

Love Progression: A Personal Essay
for oboe and string quartet

The personal essay strikes me as a mode for exploring a chosen topic in a way that might be equal parts reflective, studious and cheeky.  By ‘love progression’ I mean to refer to one of the common four-chord progressions on which a million and a half pop songs are based.  Because why not?  Common currency, my currency, history’s currency.  The mix of it. ( . . . or by ‘love progression’ did I mean the progression of love?)

The piece falls into six sections and is played without pause.

I. the flight
II. the timelessness
III. the questions
IV. the pop song
V. the mad scene
VI. the love coda

–Anna Weesner

daedalus 3.24.17Oboist Peggy Pearson commissioned and premiered my Oboe Quartet, playing the first performances back in 2015 with members of the Apple Hill Quartet. This week’s performance here in Philadelphia will be the first time the Daedalus plays the work. Mark DeVoto reviewed the first performance of the Oboe Quartet for the Boston Musical Intelligencer – you can read the review here. Preview the piece with audio or the score.

Here’s a program listing and note on the piece: 

1) Moderato
2) Allegro con fuoco
3) Passacaglia: Adagio, ma non troppo
4) Moderato e fluente
5) Moderato; Allegro giocoso

 I first heard Peggy Pearson’s eloquent playing as part of the performances of Bach cantatas at Emmanuel Church in Boston, and I think that baroque context has influenced this quartet. The work’s central passacaglia invokes a baroque form, while the first, second and fourth movements, though not suggesting a baroque idiom, perhaps hint at cantata recitatives and arias without words – lyrical, dramatic, plaintive. The impulse throughout the work is more songful than symphonic. Using a stylized dance, as I do in the finale of the quartet, also reflects baroque practice, though the choreography in my quartet clearly has more to do with a 20th century dance floor than with an 18th century ballroom.

I have finished my Oboe Quintet for La Fenice (premiere June 9 at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival), so I have a moment to post about a few things on this snowy, icy day in Philadelphia.

– The performance of my Three Folk Hymns at UC San Diego by Susan Narucki and Donald Berman is coming up on March 15. More info here.

Peggy Pearson and members of the Daedalus Quartet will give the Philadelphia premiere of my Oboe Quartet in a concert at Penn on Friday, March 24th at 8. This happens in Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut. There will be a new piece by my Penn colleague Anna Weesner on the program as well. Preview the piece with the score here and audio here.

– In less happy news, the evaporation of classical music coverage at the New York Times continues.  The decline of the Times – what used to be called “the newspaper of record” –  is particularly distressing. The “moments” – highlights of the week’s events – that have been appearing in the Saturday edition are better than nothing, I guess, but “moments” are exactly what classical music is not about. The Times seems to aspire to be a guide to date night instead of reporting cultural news – the recent spring preview was pathetically sparse. Readers look to the Times for depth and breadth, but neither of those seems to be a priority now. I don’t subscribe to the Times for more white space around the articles and bigger pictures – more words, please! While coverage of major organization continues – so far, new productions at the Met are still covered, and the Philharmonic gets reviewed every week – smaller events, often the ones that involve new music, the kinds of thing that give New York’s musical life its rich texture, no longer have a presence in the paper. And let’s not get started on jazz coverage. The thinning out of content is happening in other parts of the paper – the editorial pages and pages 2 and 3 are now affected. Alex Ross is typically eloquent on the broader picture.

The superb duo of soprano Susan Narucki and pianist Donald Berman will perform my Three Folk Hymns at UC San Diego on Wednesday, March 15, at 7 pm. The program also includes music by Kurtág, Schumann, and Zemlinsky.

Three Folk Hymns includes pieces based on “What Wondrous Love is This?”, “Be Thou My Vision”, and “How Can I Keep From Singing?”. (Read this post written at the time of the premiere by Suzanne Rigden.) You might say it is a sequel to my 1989 set of Three Sacred Songs, works based on ancient chant melodies, with Latin texts. “How Can I…” existed as an individual song for some time; later I experimented with including it in a larger set of five songs in both Latin and English, but I think I have now settled on putting just these three songs together as a set (though they may be performed individually).

I treasure Susan as a long-time advocate for my music, evidenced by her fantastic work on my Bridge cd Sacred Songs, with the 21st Century Consort conducted by Christopher Kendall. Here are a few samples from that album:

Scores for the Three Folk Hymns are available directly from me: jamesprimosch at gmail dot com

(Narucki & Berman photo: Richard Bowditch)

These pictures taken by Elizabeth Richardson at Emmanuel Church last weekend came out so nicely I had to share them with you in a new post. I’m shown with Emmanuel Music Director Ryan Turner and Emmanuel Church Rector Pamela Werntz. Thanks to Elizabeth and to the beloved community of Emmanuel Church.

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I heard from Fred Child, host of APM’s Performance Today, that my flute duet, Badinerie Squared, will be heard at about 20 minutes into the 2nd hour of the program this Friday, March 3. The performers are Mimi Stillman and Jeffrey Khaner, from a concert in Philadelphia in 2015. Starting Friday morning, go here to stream the program. It will be available online for 30 days.

I am a bit frantic as I work to finish a quintet for oboe + piano quartet (requested by Peggy Pearson, to be premiered at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival on June 9), so there is only time for a brief post to say thank you for some recent performances. Jamie Jordan and Steven Beck gave a splendid recital at Penn last week, including excerpts from my Holy the Firm (read more about the program here). Here they are with George Crumb, whose Apparition was a concert highlight. (How it is that Steve read the oversize score for the Crumb off what appeared to be an iPad mini remains a mystery.)

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Holy the Firm was heard in its entirety later last week, as Katie O’Mara, Sarah Cooper, and Rebecca Achtenberg, all students from Westminster Choir College, collaborated with pianist J. J. Penna in a performance as part of the 2017 Art Song Festival at the College. I wasn’t able to attend, but J. J. is such a splendid pianist and admired coach that I am sure the performances were excellent.

On Sunday, Emmanuel Music did my Alleluia on a Ground as part of the weekly Eucharist at Emmanuel Church in Boston. I count myself very lucky to have an ongoing relationship (23 years!) with Emmanuel, with virtuosic performances of my motets in the context of a deeply welcoming community that knows how to listen thoughtfully thanks to decades of Bach cantata performances as an integral part of worship. Thank you to conductor Ryan Turner and all the singers, especially Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellow Sarah Yanovitch who was angelic in the little solo near the end of my piece, and spectacular in BWV 51 later in the service.

Rehearsing in the Emmanuel sanctuary:

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Emmanuel Music warming up before the service:

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And the cantata in full flight:

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h-the-fSoprano Jamie Jordan will be offering three songs from my cycle Holy the Firm as part of her recital with pianist Steven Beck at Penn tomorrow evening (2/22/17) – go here for more on the concert, and click here for a PDF of the program. The piece will be heard again later this week, as  J. J. Penna has programmed the complete cycle as the closing event of Westminster Choir College’s 2017 Art Song Festival. I don’t yet have the name of who will be singing at Westminster, but J. J. will be playing piano and I will update this post with the singer’s name as soon as I get it. The concert is this Saturday, 2/25, at 7:30 in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus. More information here. UPDATE: vocal duties for Holy the Firm will be shared by Katie O’Mara, Sarah Cooper, and Rebecca Achtenberg, all students at Westminster.

unknownI first heard the soprano Jamie Jordan on a New York New Music Ensemble concert a few years ago, and it was immediately apparent that this was an artist of exceptional gifts, so I am delighted that she will be performing at Penn next Wednesday, February 22, at 8 pm in Rose Recital Hall, found in Fisher-Bennett Hall, 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia. Her pianist will be Steven Beck. The concert will be an all-Penn affair, with music by Penn faculty past and present, plus a work by Penn alum Matthew Schreibeis. Here is the program:

George Crumb: The Sleeper
Richard WernickBall of Sun
James Primosch: Holy the Firm (excerpts)
Jay Reise: Satori
Matthew Schreibeis: Sandburg songs (excerpts)
Anna Weesner: Early After, Ever Now
George Crumb: Apparition

The opening pieces by Crumb and Wernick were written for a recital given by Jan DeGaetani in Carnegie Hall, and Crumb’s big Whitman cycle, Apparition, was also written for and premiered by Jan, all of these with her long-time colleague Gilbert Kalish. Gil gave the first performance of my Holy the Firm, with Dawn Upshaw. In addition to these details of performance history, both Jay and I studied with George and Dick, and Matt studied with Jay and I, so there are many threads binding this repertoire together.

There’s lots of audio at Jamie’s website here, and here is the first movement of Apparition, in Jan DeGaetani’s performance with Gil Kalish, from a Bridge cd:

 

I’ve returned from the Florida State University Festival of New Music. My Dark the Star for baritone and chamber ensemble was to have been performed there, but the baritone, Evan T. Jones, suffered a terrific attack of laryngitis, and the performance had to be cancelled. I did hear a rehearsal of the other musicians for the piece – Deborah Bish, clarinet; Greg Sauer, cello; Heidi Louise Williams, piano, Peter Soroka, percussion; and Alexander Jimenez, conductor – and it was clearly going to be a great performance. It’s a pity Evan was ill. Here’s hoping those performers get another shot at the piece some other time.

The Festival was a substantial event, with six concerts in a few days, presenting works by 23 composers. You can find all the details here, though with the Festival being over I am not sure how long the website will be up.

The featured guest composer was Louis Andriessen. He had several works performed; my favorite was a chamber work called Zilver in which process struck a healthy balance with melody and harmony. There was a memorable program by the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo which featured a number of imaginative miniatures by Kurtág as well as short commissioned works in his honor. The most striking of the latter was Jason Eckardt’s Toll, a solemn processional of sounds created with extended techniques. Amy Williams’ own solo piece Cineshape 4 was striking for its athletic and smart piano writing.

Here’s Andriessen at a pre-concert talk:

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Thank you to everyone at FSU, in particular Clifton Callender and Evan A. Jones, co-chairs of the Festival committee, for the tremendous amount of work that went into making the Festival happen. Even though my piece didn’t get performed, I am very grateful to have been there.

I lingered in Tallahassee after the festival to attend a recording session for two of my Three Folk Hymns. These are songs based on “Be Thou My Vision” and “What Wondrous Love Is This?”, and were recorded by Heidi Williams (FSU faculty, who was to have played piano in the ill-fated Dark the Star performance), and soprano Mary Mackenzie. Both ladies were in excellent form, and this was the least stressful recording session I have ever participated in! (It didn’t hurt that we only had to do about 8 minutes of music.) I worked with composer Daniel Crozier to produce the session. Dan was extremely helpful with noting small details for which we needed to record patches – I just find it very hard to decide if we are covered for particular spots, and my comments were more in the vein of coaching suggestions. The recording engineer was Paul Hennerich of The Pan-Galactic Company, and he captured a rich and colorful sound. Heidi used FSU’s Fazioli piano, an instrument with a unique timbre, quite different from a Steinway. It is savory, sumptuously resonant, yet a bit bright. It brought to mind an exotic after-dinner liqueur. It could easily become clattery in the hands of someone less skilled than Heidi, but she drew an astonishing array of bewitching color from the instrument. I am greatly looking forward to the CD for which this was the last session. It will come out on Albany later this year, a two-disc set featuring music by Daniel Crozier, Ned Rorem, and John Harbison as well as a big chunk of my own vocal catalog.

Here’s the setup in FSU’s Opperman Music Hall:

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Heidi at work:

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the view from the driver’s seat:

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check out the oddly grained and highly finished interior of the case:

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Even the underside of the instrument is beautiful:

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Mary and Heidi when the session was over:

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And here is the whole team with Heidi and Mary in front, and, standing behind them, Paul Hennerich (engineer), Anne Garee (piano technician), myself, and Dan Crozier, (co-producer).

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