The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced that I am the recipient of the Virgil Thomson Award in Vocal Music for 2020. The press release is here.
Needless to say, I count myself very lucky indeed, and am greatly touched that the distinguished jury (listed in the release) would consider my work worthy of this recognition.
I submitted two choral works to be considered by the jury: Carthage (a setting of a text by Marilynne Robinson – she’s an Academy member, maybe I’ll get to shake her hand at the Academy Ceremonial) and my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, my setting of the Latin Mass interwoven with poems reflecting on the Mass texts by Denise Levertov. The latter will be performed by Emmanuel Music at Emmanuel Church in Boston on March 29 at their 10 am Sunday liturgy, and can be heard on a forthcoming CD of my choral music by The Crossing.
The award is for vocal music, so I will survey that part of my catalog in a subsequent post.
My friends at The Crossing embark on a remarkable adventure starting tonight here in Philadelphia. Aniara: Fragments of Time and Space is a big new work of what you might call choral theatre. Rob Maggio (a U Penn alum) is the composer, and you can read more about the collaborators here. The good news – given that the performances are sold out – is that there will be livestreams of the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon performances – go here for those.
I feel I can say “my friends at The Crossing” because I have been privileged to have the group perform my music on several occasions. We will be recording an album of my choral music later this summer. Here is the premiere of the big Mass I wrote for the group, combining the traditional Latin texts with poetry of Denise Levertov reflecting on those texts.
The deeply frightening election nightmare that has descended leaves little room to talk about artistic matters. And yet, I feel I would be remiss if I did not express my thanks for the recent performances of my music in the past several days.
Cantori New York and the French ensemble Musicatreize gave two vivid performances of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus in New York City this past weekend. The combined choirs mastered the intricate layering of the piece, with its settings of both the Latin Ordinary of the Mass and Denise Levertov poems that reflect on the liturgical texts. I felt the singers had internalized the gestures of the piece and projected them to the listeners with authority and nuance.
Overlapping with the Cantori concerts were performances of my Dark the Star with Baritone Tom Meglioranza and the New York New Music Ensemble This was an astonishing performance; Tom had memorized the piece, a 20-minute work that sets Rilke, Susan Stewart, and a verse from the psalms. Beauty of sound, precision, powerful affect – Tom’s singing had it all. The instrumentalists – Jean Kopperud, clarinet; Stephen Gosling, piano; Chris Finckel, cello; and Daniel Druckman, percussion, with conductor Eduardo Leandro – were no less eloquent.
Here are YouTube links for the pieces: the Mass as performed by The Crossing and Dark the Star with William Sharp and the 21st Century Consort, Christopher Kendall conductor.
Although I was in New York and could not attend, I was happy to learn that mezzo Kristin Gornstein performed one of my Three Folk Hymns this past Sunday as part of her recital at St. Thomas Church in Whitemarsh, not far outside Philadelphia. Her pianist was Derrick Goff. Kristin was very impressive when I heard her give the premiere of Steve Mackey’s Madrigal for voice and percussion at Tanglewood in 2015, and I am delighted she has taken up my music.
In addition to these performances, I want to report that pianist Youmee Kim has recorded my Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift for Centaur Records as part of an album of American piano music. Youmee was a member of the consortium that commissioned the piece, and it is wonderful to have this elegantly performed document of that project. I am not yet finding the album online; Centaur advises checking Arkiv Music or HB Direct for its products, and I expect the disc will be available soon.
Cantori New York has announced its 2016-2017 season, and their first program on November 5 and 6 will feature the New York premiere of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, a work I wrote on a commission from The Crossing. The piece interweaves a setting of the Latin Mass, sung by a schola or small group of singers, with settings of Denise Levertov poems reflecting on the Mass texts, sung by a larger main choir. For these performances, the French vocal ensemble Musicatreize will serve as the schola and Cantori New York as the main choir. Cantori’s artistic director Mark Shapiro will conduct. The performances will take place at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, which is on West End Avenue at 87th Street. I don’t have the times yet for the performances – I believe they are both in the evening, will share that info with you when I can.
You can see a video of The Crossing premiering the Mass here.
The performance by The Crossing of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus given this past June will be heard on WRTI-FM this coming Sunday, August 23, at 4:00 pm. More info here.
I’m happy to link to a sympathetic review of The Crossing’s performance of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus by David Patrick Stearns that appeared in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. He called it one of my best works, and I think he is right – for whatever inexplicable reason, things seemed to fall into place in that piece. Would that such a thing would happen consistently…
I liked the comment with which the review ends:
You can trust a piece that’s too personal to proselytize, and, through depth of feeling, achieves more universality.
The performance was quite fantastic. I am in awe of the musicianship of The Crossing’s singers and of the skill with which Donald Nally (the group’s artistic director) can elicit the formidable best that they can give. It didn’t hurt that many of the singers were performing the piece for a second time. It was good to hear the piece in Chestnut Hill Presbyterian, a less drastically resonant space than The Icebox where the premiere took place.
You can see the video of last year’s premiere of the piece at this site’s video page – go to the link above.
I was honored to be mentioned in David Patrick Stearns’s review of events in classical music for 2014 in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote:
Philadelphia had its own unofficial biennial. In a town sometimes accused of championing composers from far away at the expense of locals, The Crossing choir’s June/July Month of Moderns Festival featured new works by both Robert Maggio (The Women Where We Are Living) and James Primosch (Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus) at peak inspiration. In October, Kile Smith delivered The Consolation of Apollo, an ingenious melding of the writings of sixth-century Boethius and the musings of the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968. Would these works have been written were there not a choir like this to sing them?
To answer his rhetorical question – no, I think not, at least not in my own case. I wrote the piece knowing I could count on a superb performance, no matter what the challenges I set before the group. I’m happy to say The Crossing will reprise the piece next June 21.
The Crossing, Philadelphia’s extraordinary new music choir, has just announced its 2014-15 season, and I am happy to say they will be reviving my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, which they premiered this past summer. The date is Sunday, June 21, 2015, as part of the group’s annual Month of Moderns festival – more info about the program here. You can see video of this past June’s performance by choosing the video link above. There are several posts about the piece below; perhaps start with this one. You can find more posts by clicking on “The Crossing” in the tag cloud found in the sidebar on the right.
The concert by The Crossing that included the premiere of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus will be heard on WRTI this coming Sunday, August 31, from 4 to 6 pm (Philadelphia time). You can listen online at the WRTI website. Read more about the Mass here, and about the broadcast here.
Very happy to say that The Crossing‘s remarkable performance of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus has been posted on YouTube:
Many, many thanks to all the singers and to Donald Nally, the conductor for their fantastic work on this piece.
Read more about the Mass here, here, and here.