Notes of Thanks in Review

I was happy to be part of the celebration this past Sunday in honor of Network for New Music’s outgoing artistic director Linda Reichert. Here’s what was on the program:


It was an honor to share a program with a lot of very distinguished colleagues; an honor as well to perform with some very fine players, who did a great job on my piece.

Click here for the Philadelphia Inquirer review. As Peter Dobrin wrote,

For complexity and subtlety of message, James Primosch’s Two Sketches captured quite a lot. Scored for piano, violin, cello, clarinet, and flute/piccolo, the work’s first movement lurked. The second announced itself with a four-note figure that grew into other ideas. It was a capstone of the best kind, conveying the feeling of freedom and ease, an innocent sense of discovery — coveted ideals for any artist headed off into the scary free-form of reinvention.

Print Media Dämmerung

Three recent events involving newspaper writing about classical music:

  • November 12, 2017: New York Times devotes its Sunday classical page to an upcoming album of pop songs sung by a former opera singer.
  • November 12, 2017: Philadelphia Inquirer devotes its classical page to a preview of upcoming new music events in Philadelphia.
  • November 16, 2017: David Patrick Stearns announced on his blog that he is accepting a buyout from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I’m not saying there is an causal relationship among these events. But the juxtaposition of the two Nov. 12 articles was striking – by wasting the limited space available for classical music that day, the Times seemed parochial compared with the Philadelphia paper.

I am sad to see David Patrick Stearns go. His writing annoyed me, it pleased me, it offered me fresh insights – sometimes all in the same article. But it was always solid and thoughtful writing and never boring. He will be greatly missed.

David Patrick Stearns on “Alleluia”

Philadelphia Inquirer classical music critic David Patrick Stearns wrote about this past Sunday’s Mendelssohn Club premiere of my Alleluia on a Ground. You can read the full article here (note that the picture is a file photo and not from this past weekend), but here is the relevant portion:

…the best news that came out of this season-ending concert at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion is that two of Philadelphia’s world-class composers  wrote new pieces. [Robert Maggio was the other composer represented by a new piece.] Both were in top form, showing hugely different approaches toward the same text.

They program continued Mendelssohn’s mini-commissioning series of pieces written to the word Alleluia in honor of retired artistic director Alan Harler. For Sunday’s program, James Primosch and Robert Maggio delivered works that felt completely self contained but are full of ideas that should be continued into larger works.

Primosch’s Alleluia on a Ground began with unison vocal lines of such apparent simplicity that they could almost have been Gregorian chants. Yet subtle quirks pointed to a discreet individuality that would never have been heard in music from that world. Many vocal lines had what might be called a hinge note, opening a door into unanticipated but never radical directions. These created a web of contrapuntal writing at home in a religious text setting but going to places specific to Primosch, especially with background and foreground effects.

I like that idea of a “hinge note”, a gateway to a fresh direction. I also appreciated the mention of “background and foreground effects” – perhaps this was suggested most vividly by the juxtaposition of chords for the full chorus and a smaller subset of the group at the climax of the piece. Climactic or not, that three-dimensional effect is something I am always seeking.

I wish I could offer my own comments on the performance, but car trouble kept me from getting to the concert in time. I think it’s the first time I ever missed a premiere! Having heard two rehearsals, I know conductor Paul Rardin and the singers surely did a wonderful job.

Philadelphia Milestones

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.

Network “Third Space” in Review

Nice to see this review of Network for New Music’s festival of electronic music in the Philadelphia Inquirer today. Here’s what David Patrick Stearns had to say about my Chamber Concerto:

James Primosch’s terrific Chamber Concerto began dauntingly with musical ideas splintered over a large range of sounds, opening the door to an exquisite, mysterious garden of sound in the second movement, reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen, with a playfully intricate final movement.

I quite agree with David’s comment about the performances being at a “remarkably high standard” – thank you, Network!