Prism and Penn

prism-main-header2I’m happy to report that The Presser Foundation has announced its 75th Anniversary Special Project Grants, and that one of them went to the Prism Saxophone Quartet in support of a residency at University of Pennsylvania featuring a series of commissions and performances. All three Penn faculty members – Anna Weesner, Jay Reise, and myself – will be writing new pieces for the group.

I first had the privilege of writing for Prism back in 2003, as well as later contributing a short piece included on their Innova CD, “Dedication“. I’m very much looking forward to this new project, for these are fabulous players, four virtuosi with an uncanny sense of ensemble. I am thinking about a piece combining the quartet with piano, possibly an improvising pianist, but it will take a while before that gets decided.

The Crossing and “Much Magic”

I was happy to see David Patrick Stearns’s positive comments on The Crossing‘s recent concert here in Philly, including some nice words about my piece, Spiralling Ecstatically. David remarks that he doesn’t usually associate me with choral music, which is pretty reasonable, given the fact that my choral music is not widely performed – I suffer, like so many composers, from second performance syndrome. But the fact is that I have written about a dozen choral pieces, five of them since the turn of the century. I am in the process of circulating a batch of scores among choral directors, and perhaps something will come of that; also, I hope the Mendelssohn Club’s CD on Innova of Fire-Memory/River-Memory will have an impact. For now, I’ll direct you to my website, where there is a listing of my choral works, plus some audio and score clips (note that the “chorus” webpage does not yet include the two most recent motets, Two Arms of the Harbor, and Gaudete in Domino).

Opera News on Fire-Memory/River-Memory

I just heard about a review in Opera News of the Mendelssohn Club‘s Innova disc called  “Metamorphosis” that includes my Fire-Memory/River-Memory. If you subscribe, you can find it online – it was posted in October. Here is the discussion of F-M/R-M:

The third work, James Primosch’s Fire-Memory/River-Memory, from 1998, sets two poems by the British-born American poet Denise Levertov. Primosch ranges freely and effectively across the tonal spectrum, holding the listener in his emotional grip even when the harmonic language becomes harsh. The first poem, “What Were They Like?”, is a series of rhetorical questions and answers, posed to victims of the Vietnam War. Toward the end, a solo violin emerges from the choral texture with poignant beauty. The second poem, “Of Rivers” builds grandly and evokes nature’s majesty, as well as the divine, metaphoric ability of rivers to “remember.” This makes an effective counterweight to “What Were They Like?”, emphasizing that the horrors of war must not be forgotten.”

Pretty nice, huh? This for a disc that was named Disc of the Week by WQXR when it was released. Read more about the recording here, here and here. Thank you so much to the Mendelssohn Club and Alan Harler.

(Not an Olympic) Miscellany

-I just came across a nice write-up about the Mendelssohn Club’s disc that includes my Fire-Memory/River-Memory. A relevant portion:

James Primosch’s “Fire Memory/River Memory” has a more choral/symphonic through-composed quality. The music has a harmonically more adventurous palette and well crafted choral-symphonic sonances. Of the three works, this one has the most sweeping flow to it. It revels in suspension and release, choral part writing that is set off very effectively by poetic orchestration, a solo violin part that weaves in and out of the neo-impressionist orchestral light and shadow. The final of the two movements has some fireworks of an orchestral sort and more of the beautiful choral writing that permeates the work as a whole.

– Very fine composer and good friend Hayes Biggs is part of a Kickstarter campaign in support of a recording project by C4, the Choral Composer Conductor Collective. I wrote about Hayes’s music here and here, and there is a sample of his work at C4’s Kickstarter site.

– Newport Jazz Festival streams here.

– My colleague Steve Mackey blogs about The Rite of Spring.

– Read this in connection with Hiroshima and Nagasaki days.

Innova Playlist

The second movement of my Fire-Memory/River-Memory is on the current playlist at the Innova Records site. Go here and click on “Listen Up” in the upper right of the page. Scroll down in the pop-up, and you’ll find the second movement of the piece. Of course, there is lots of other stuff worth hearing on Innova by a great many composers – speaking for myself, I have a track on the Prism Quartet “Dedication” album, and there’s also the performance of George Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics in which I play alongside Lambert Orkis.

Mendelssohnian Metamorphosis

I’m delighted to report that the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia’s new CD Metamorphosis has been released on Innova. The album includes choral pieces by Jennifer Higdon, Andrea Clearfield, and my own Fire-Memory/River-Memory. I wrote about the project and the piece here and here. (Innova is having trouble with its website at the moment, will pass along an update when I can.) Photo borrowed from the Mendelssohn Club Facebook page.

Prism plays Straight Up

In 2004 I was one of 23 composers invited to write short pieces for a concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Prism Saxophone Quartet. I reached into my files and took the basic musical material from a chart I had written for my undergrad school’s jazz ensemble, enriched the harmony a bit, added some dissonant counterpoint and a little cadenza, and produced Straight Up. The title came from a frequent conversational interjection by a trumpet player I knew back then, roughly equivalent to “no kidding?”, or “are you talking to me straight?” – a  possible reaction to hearing the piece.

Prism has recorded those 23 pieces for Innova, and to celebrate the release of the CD, they will play them in concerts in Philly and NYC. The Philadelphia concert is at the World Cafe this Saturday, May 29 at 7; the New York edition is at The Stone, March 31 at 10.

The list of composers is nicely diverse with respect to style, age, and so forth – here’s the list:

Tim Berne
William Bolcom
Zack Browning
Robert Capanna
Donnacha Dennehy
Dennis DeSantis
Nick Didkovsky
Jason Eckardt
Roshanne Etezady
Reneé Favand-See
Perry Goldstein
Jennifer Higdon
Libby Larsen
Matthew Levy
Keith Moore
Greg Osby
Frank J. Oteri
James Primosch
Tim Ries
Adam Silverman
Ken Ueno
Gregory Wanamaker
Chen Yi

(Hey, I went to a lot of trouble to get all those links, so start clicking.)

Video on Innova here.