Emmanuel Music, conducted by Ryan Turner, will be doing not one but two of my motets at upcoming Emmanuel Church services. One With the Darkness, One With the Light, a Wendell Berry setting scored for treble voices, will be heard at the 10:00 am Eucharist on Sunday, Dec. 20. The motet slot is fairly early in the service, but stick around for Bach Cantata 132 which will be done later on. The next day, Journey, my setting of a Meister Eckhardt text as rendered in verse by Jon Sweeney and Mark Burrows, will be sung by the men of Emmanuel as part of the church’s “Blue Christmas” service at 7:30 pm (times are EST.) You can watch the live stream of both services here, and it appears all the services are archived at that page if you can’t be in front of a screen to see them live.
Emmanuel has been doing my music for decades now, and I am deeply grateful to share my work with this remarkable worshipping community.
These two pieces are the bookends that begin and end Carthage, the CD of my choral music recorded by The Crossing. The disc was recently nominated for a Grammy for best choral performance, an honor richly deserved by conductor Donald Nally. More on the album here.
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.
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.
Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift – the set of piano pieces on Descent/Return – is published by Theodore Presser, find it here. For scores of the other items, contact me directly.
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.