Holy the Firm


“The Lyric Fest concert featured works by Andrea Clearfield, Kile Smith and other members of the cohort of composers that Philadelphia has acquired in the last two decades. All of them contributed worthy pieces, but I’m most impelled to mention James Primosch’s Cinder.

Primosch never writes anything flashy, but his work always stands out when it appears on a new music program. For Cinder [from Holy the Firm], he began with a well-chosen poem by a poet named Susan Stewart. Its subject is the symbiosis of opposites, starting with the flame we use to make the tong that protects us from the flame. It’s a simple, tender poem that’s loaded with significance, and Primosch gave it the simple, tender musical setting it deserved.”

-Tom Purdom, Broad Street Review, January 1, 2013


Cinder [from Holy the Firm] of Primosch masterfully balanced opposites. His orchestral canvasses are songs; it is only right that Cinder, well, it is a symphony.

-Kile Smith, blog post, October 16, 2012


“Cleveland-born composer James Primosch drew texts from the writings of three 20th-century American women and a seventh-century Sinai desert monk for his luminous songs, Holy the Firm. The poetic words are sensitively matched to music that evokes images of fire, Jacob’s ladder, an everyday god and deathbed sensations. The vocalist frequently sings in a high range, and the piano part, too, reaches toward the heavens. Soprano Tony Arnold drew listeners into the score’s rapturous atmosphere with singing of tonal beauty and dramatic truth. Pianist Jacob Greenberg played his collaborative role with clarity.”

-Wilma Salisbury, Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 22, 2005


“She [Dawn Upshaw] began the second half with songs by six living composers who either have written on commission from her or tickled her artistic fancy. They are composers worthy of the attention, especially James Primosch (whose Cinder is a haunting essay about destiny based on a poem by Susan Stewart)…”

– Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 7, 1999


“The two brand-new works, both commissioned for her [Dawn Upshaw], were particularly exhilarating. The more substantial was the five-song cycle Holy the Firm by the Pennsylvania-based James Primrosch [sic] (born in 1956). The title and two of the texts are taken from the writer Annie Dillard; the other sections are by poets Denise Levertov and Susan Stewart, as well as a seventh-century Sinai monk. Cumulatively they evoke the mysteries of existence and faith, concluding with a long sequence, “Deathbeds”, which begins with harrowing bewilderment and anxiety but then resolves itself — as does the cycle as a whole — in transcendent, rapt acceptance. Dawn Upshaw’s searing performance was a journey that felt tactile both physically and spiritually.”

– Urjo Kareda, Toronto Globe and Mail, April 21, 1999


“The juxtaposition of Holy the Firm and the Messiaen – both concerning various aspects of spiritual ecstasy – made for absorbing listening. Primrosch’s [sic] brief cycle gathers verse by three women – Denise Levertov, Annie Dillard and Susan Stewart – and the seventh century monk, John Climacus. The settings are expansive, with lots of busy figurations in the piano, yet the words remain paramount. Upshaw rendered it with a glowing integrity.”

– Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner, April 12, 1999


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