Many Songs in Tallahassee and Hattiesburg

I enjoyed two coaching sessions last week with Mary Mackenzie and Heidi Williams. These two ladies will be performing most of my voice and piano song output later this year, and then recording almost all of that material for an eventual CD release. On Friday, November 20, at Florida State University in Tallahassee, they will perform:

  • Three Sacred Songs (arrangements of old plainchant melodies)
  • Holy the Firm (a big cycle I wrote for Dawn Upshaw)
  • the individual songs Waltzing the Spheres and Shadow Memory (texts by Susan Scott Thompson and Susan Orlean, respectively)
  • an arrangement of How Can I Keep from Singin? (dating from some 20 years ago, it was written for an all-Primosch show at the Cleveland Museum of Art)

The performance will also be given at Southern Mississippi University in Hattiesburg on Tuesday, November 17. I’ll be there in Florida, and will give a talk at FSU, but will have to miss my Mississippi debut – I’ll be in NYC for the Juilliard performance of From a Book of Hours.

Both of these women are quite fantastic musicians. I’ve known Mary for some time, and she has done my work beautifully on several occasions, including a performance and recording of my piece for modern instruments, early instruments, and choir, Sacred Songs and Meditations (that recording has been in the can for a while, I imagine the release shouldn’t be too far off.) Heidi was new to me, and she is a real find, getting a beautiful piano sound, capable of subtle rhythmic nuance, ably partnering Mary. The rather virtuosic piano writing in Holy the Firm holds no terrors for her. Check out her very impressive disc Drive American, with music by John Adams, Joan Tower, Daniel Crozier, Chen Yi, Augusta Read Thomas, and William Bolcom.

The individual songs mentioned above are not (yet) handled by Theodore Presser, my usual publisher. Check out sample pages from these songs on the score excerpts page. There is a recording of Shadow Memory (Lisa Williamson, soprano and Rami Sarieddine, piano) on the “solo voice” audio excerpts page. A video of Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, and Laura Ward, piano, doing Waltzing the Spheres is here. Send me an e-mail <jamesprimosch at gmail dot com> if you want purchase PDFs for any or all of these individual songs – click on the titles above to purchase the cycles.

Here is the inevitable post-coaching selfie. That’s Mary on the left, then Heidi in the middle.

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Ways of Listening

You may have noticed the link at the end of the recent NY Times review of the Tanglewood performance of my Dark the Star – it takes you to a YouTube posting of a track from the Bridge recording of the piece. The recording is by William Sharp, baritone, the 21st Century Consort, and Christopher Kendall, conductor. You really should pick up a copy of the disc (there are links to do that at the Bridge website), but if you disdain physical media (and paying artists for their work!) and want to hear the piece from the beginning, go here. Dark the Star consists of nine movements played without pause, which means the separate videos for each track of the piece interrupt the flow in disconcerting ways, sometimes in mid-phrase – another reason to spring for the physical disc. The pieces from the Sacred Songs cd featuring soprano Susan Narucki are also on YouTube – here’s the first track from the cycle Holy the Firm.

Another way of listening to my work is to visit the audio excerpts link above. I’ve just posted two items:

– under solo voice, you can find the recent premiere of Shadow Memory, with soprano Lisa Williamson and pianist Rami Sarieddine, recorded at SongFest this past June. The piece is on a text by Susan Orlean.

– under instrumental, you’ll find the Oboe Quartet I wrote for Peggy Pearson and the Apple Hill Quartet, this taken from their performance at St. Paul’s in Brookline, MA this past spring.

And, yes, I was thinking of this title when I titled this post, though not of the book’s content.

Rehearsing Shadow Memory

lisa-homeSongFest has gifted me with a couple of splendid young musicians to give the first performance of my new Susan Orlean song, Shadow Memory. I rehearsed with soprano Lisa Williamson (at left – photo by Brian Hatton) and pianist Rami Sarieddine on Wednesday up at Bard College, and it was immediately clear that they had the piece well in hand. We were able to work on relatively subtle details, little nuances of tempo and dynamics. It’s a simple song, but I think it will be affecting, especially with its beautiful text. Go here to read the essay where I found the text – I used just the last paragraph.

You always learn a few things about a piece and about your notation when you finally hear it tried out. For example, Rami took my notation (see below) to mean that he shouldn’t change the pedal in the first bar. The combination of my request for generous pedaling and the high C sustained in the upper register across the chord change suggested a single pedal for the whole measure. I asked him to change the pedal when the left hand chord changed, otherwise it was too blurry. I think I need to re-write this so that the high C terminates when the harmony changes, that will help make it clear that the pedal should change.

Go here for a page at the SongFest website on the June 3 concert that includes the Shadow Memory premiere. While you are there, look around at some of the other events – there is an astonishing array of talent on the faculty, and with a faculty like that the program attracts very gifted young performers.

Here are a couple of snapshots from my visit to Bard.  The Bitó Music Conservatory Building where we rehearsed:

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There is a suite of John Cage drawings in the lobby:

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as well as a Joel Shapiro, elegant and playful in its balance of forms:

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Funding for Songfest

Go here to help raise funds for a scholarship that will enable a young singer to attend Songfest, the advanced training program held at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. Songfest is doing the premiere of my Susan Orlean setting, Shadow Memory, at a June 3 program. (I anticipate being able to share with you the names of the performers soon.) Songfest has quite an extraordinary faculty; the starry names include pianists Margo Garrett, Graham Johnson, and Martin Katz, with singers including Susanne Mentzer, Lucy Shelton, Sanford Sylvan, and Dawn Upshaw, among many others.

Songfest Premiere

SongFest, the art song festival and training program held each summer at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, has scheduled the premiere of my Susan Orlean setting, Shadow Memoryfor June 3. The performers will be chosen from among the New Music Fellows participating in the program. I was at SongFest as a composer a number of years ago, and the quality of the performances was very high, so I anticipate an excellent debut for my new song. I’ll be posting more information about the premiere as it becomes available.

The faculty at SongFest this year is quite remarkable, an all-star array of practitioners and teachers. Check out the list of master classes here.

Shadow Memory

UnknownIt’s so typical: I’ve got a commission and a due date for an oboe quartet, to be premiered by the superb Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music next April 26. I’ve got a decent start on that piece. But instead of staying focused on the quartet, a different project has been commanding my attention lately, one without a commission or due date. This is a little song on a text by Susan Orlean, pictured at left. She is the best-selling author of Rin Tin TinThe Orchid Thief, Saturday Night, and My Kind of Place, among other books, as well as being a staff writer for the New Yorker, and an avid Twitterer. Her short essay, “Shadow Memory”, anthologized in My Kind of Place, was originally a contribution to a book called Flowers in Shadow: A Photographer Discovers a Victorian Botanical Journal. I chose just the last paragraph of this piece. It is a beautifully crafted single sentence that speaks of “the little shadow each of us casts”. In my setting I’ve tried to capture the bittersweet flavor of the excerpt, which is carefully balanced between remembering and forgetting, between that which will “stay fresh forever, or forever slip away.”

No premiere has been set for the song yet, but I am in conversations about setting something up. The song just needs a little more polishing, and then it will be back to the oboe quartet, as well as a little piece for the Dolce Suono concert on January 18.