…a refined music that can be intensely lyrical at one moment and impassioned the next…
…resplendent vocal polyphony…
A very nice review from AllMusic on The Crossing’s album of my choral music, Carthage. An excerpt below, read the whole thing here.
Those new to The Crossing might do well to pick this release for their first one. It is entirely devoted to a cappella choral music of James Primosch, who has forged a one-of-a-kind choral idiom. The texts mix sacred and secular elements, with the centerpiece, the Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, combining the Catholic mass text with poems by Denise Levertov. Other contemporary writers represented include Marilynne Robinson (whose prose from the novel Housekeeping provides the metaphorical view of ancient Carthage that gives the album its title) and Wendell Berry. What is most impressive is that Primosch devises a flexible musical language that matches the wide variety of textual ideas. His music, in the main, is diatonic but not really tonal. Parts of the mass offer open intervals, reminiscent of medieval organum, that complement the troping structure inherent in the exchange between the Levertov poems and the mass text. Elsewhere, Primosch employs lush, close harmonies as a means of musical intensification, for instance, in the utterly original treatment of the Incarnation and Crucifixion in the mass. He may add a descant requiring superb control from The Crossing‘s sopranos, who excel. Yet again, in some of the shorter pieces, Primosch offers a new intervallic structure with each phrase, in a way reflecting the sense of the text. There’s a lot to absorb here, and the music rewards and requires multiple hearings. The performances by The Crossing, always solid, are pitch-perfect; the soloists are beautiful but do not seem to step out of the world created by the choir. This is a major American choral release.
Donald with Dave Lake on WRUU (Savannah, Georgia)
Donald on WGTE (Toldedo, Ohio)
Check out two recent blog posts from Penn’s Annenberg Center relevant to the recent release of Carthage and Descent/Return – the first springs from a chat I did with Alexander Freeman of the Annenberg staff; the second is about The Crossing and Carthage specifically. Go here to visit the websites of the performers on Descent/Return: Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough.
It’s the big day. Navona Records is releasing Carthage today, with The Crossing singing a program of my choral music, conducted by Donald Nally. Go here to learn more, to stream the music, and to purchase a CD.
This project means a great deal to me and not just because of the astonishing performances and excellent recorded sound. The spiritual orientation of these pieces makes them especially close to my heart. I am profoundly grateful to have such a marvelous document of my music, and of my relationships with The Crossing and Emmanuel Music, the two groups for whom I wrote the pieces on this album
My experiences with choral music began with my work as a church musician starting in my teens and continuing to this day. I’ve had a long relationship with Emmanuel Music, having written numerous pieces for that group over the past 26 years, three of which are on the new album. I’ve written for chorus and ensemble as well, with works for the Cantata Singers and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. All of these experiences nourished the three pieces I composed for The Crossing that make up the bulk of the album, most notably the big Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, my interweaving of the Latin Mass texts with poems of Denise Levertov that comment on those liturgical texts.
The members of The Crossing possess extraordinary skill, but in working with them to prepare performances and make this recording, I have also experienced their patience, their high standards, their generosity, and their sensitivity.
I think there is a unique vulnerability inherent in vocal music, but there is a unique power as well. These qualities come across particularly strongly in a cappella choral music and you will sense this when you listen to Carthage.
Donald Nally, Artistic Director of The Crossing did an interview with WGTE Public Media in which he discusses the choir’s recent recording of Michael Gordon’s Anonymous Man, as well as my own about-to-be-released Carthage. Go here to listen to or download the podcast. The discussion of Carthage begins at about 15:30 – or, if you are playing the podcast on the WGTE website, when there is about 12:30 left to go. (The player indicates how much time is left, not how much time has passed.)
Two happy events today: The Crossing has released on Spotify a track from Carthage, their forthcoming Navona album of my choral music. It’s the Gloria from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, a piece that interweaves a setting of the Latin Ordinary of the Mass with poems by Denise Levertov reflecting on the Latin texts.
The second piece of news is that the album Descent/Return is out on the Albany label. Soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan McCullough offer a program of songs and piano solo pieces by myself and John Harbison. Ryan made a trailer for album, find it here. There’s a nice article about the release from the Cornell Chronicle here.
A track list for Descent/Return:
This afternoon I heard about two new videos posted on YouTube. The first is a trailer for Descent/Return, the new album on Albany with Ryan McCullough, piano, and Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano. Ryan put together a score follower video with excerpts from the record. I joked to Ryan that my first score follower video means I have now truly made it as a composer.
The other video was posted by Emmanuel Music as part of a series of postings sharing their performances during the pandemic. There’s a chat with Emmanuel’s artistic director Ryan Turner and myself (enjoy my lockdown beard), followed by three movements from my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. This happens to be the major work on Carthage, the new album by The Crossing that is coming out later this month.
To be clear, the new album is with The Crossing, not Emmanuel. It’s just a nice coincidence that Emmanuel chose to share this video during the same month The Crossing’s cd is coming out.
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.