Cold Snap Miscellany

A few items of interest on a chilly day in Philadelphia:

– Two choirs that have performed my music offer Christmas concerts this weekend: The Crossing, and  Cantori New York.

– Did you know you can hear performances from Yellow Barn online? Lots of new music, including works by Michel van der Aa, Charles Wuorinen, Oliver Knussen, Hans Abrahamsen and many more, as well as traditional repertoire.

– The extraordinary violinist Rolf Schulte has made archival recordings of his performances of concertos by Roger Sessions and Donald Martino available on CD Baby here. The Sessions is performed by the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, with Janos Kulka, and the Martino is with the New Hampshire Symphony and James Bolle. The music is also available on the iTunes store.

– The Association for the Promotion of New Music presents an all-Babbitt program in his centennial year on December 19 at the Di Menna Center in New York, including performances by the New York New Music Ensemble.

– There will be a concert of music by Robert Capanna on Friday, January 6, at the Settlement Music School’s Queen Street Branch here in Philadelphia. Presented in collaboration with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the performers include the Network for New Ensemble conducted by Jan Krzywicki, soprano Sharon Harms, pianist Charles Abramovic, and the Prism Saxophone Quartet.

Cantori New York, Musicatreize, and St. Thomas Mass

A few years ago I wrote a big piece for The Crossing that set the Latin Ordinary of the Mass, interwoven with settings of poems by Denise Levertov that reflect on the Mass texts. The piece takes its title from the sequence of Levertov poems: Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. The Crossing later gave a second performance of the work, but no other group has taken up the piece until now. Cantori New York, in collaboration with the French ensemble Musicatreize, will perform the Mass at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 552 West End Avenue in New York City this coming Saturday, November 5 at 8 pm, and Sunday, November 6, at 7 pm. In the work, the Levertov poems are assigned to a main choir while the Mass texts are given to a schola, in this case four soloists drawn from Musicatreize. The latter group will also perform the work themselves on November 2 at the Salle Musicatreize in Marseille.

Here is my program note on the piece:

This work is part of a long tradition of Mass settings that juxtapose additional poems with the standard Latin texts; Requiems of Benjamin Britten and Christopher Rouse are recent examples, though the practice of poetic insertions originated many centuries ago. I have assigned the Latin texts (excerpts in the case of the Credo) to a group of four solo singers while the main choir sings excerpts from a cycle of poems by Denise Levertov inspired by the Mass texts. The Latin settings are in the manner of various forms of liturgical music, and include quotations of a Bach chorale and Gregorian Chant.

The title of my piece is that of the Levertov cycle. St. Thomas Didymus is the apostle Thomas, with the designation “Didymus” meaning “the twin”. Thomas is informally known as “doubting Thomas” because of his insistence on seeing and touching Jesus before he would believe in the Resurrection. Upon subsequently seeing Christ, he acknowledged him as “My Lord and my God”. A Mass honoring St. Thomas is a Mass that honors the juxtaposition of doubt and belief that is the basis of life in pursuit of the divine. The simple pair of twin statements in Levertov’s reflection on the Credo is the pivot of the work:

I believe and
interrupt my belief with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief.

St. Thomas Mass in NYC

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.

Mid-October Miscellany

There has been a lack of posting here due to a deadline for my Philadelphia Chamber Music Society commission. But this week I sent the last movement of my new violin and piano to my brilliant editor/computer notation wizard, and I am now catching up on various neglected tasks. I’ll write about the PCMS piece in another post, for now I’ll just say it is called Five Poems – it was originally going to be a Violin Sonata, but the movements feel more like character pieces than something “symphonic” in conception.


The soprano soloist for the New Juilliard Ensemble performance of my From a Book of Hours has been named: Alexandra Razskazoff. There is a brief bio of her here (scroll down) from a press release on a Juilliard performance of Le nozze di Figaro this past spring.


So many events worth your attention this weekend in Philly:

Guthrie Ramsey’s Musiqology at Annenberg
Network for New Music has a panel and a concert for the Persichetti centennial
Bowerbird explores Julius Eastman
The Crossing is at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian with encore performances of several pieces
Kile Smith has a premiere on the first Mendelssohn Club concert under new artistic director Paul Rardin


And if you are in New York City this weekend, Mimi Stillman and Bart Feller will be doing my Badinerie Squared at a New York Flute Club program this coming Sunday.


Recent reading:

Bluets – Maggie Nelson
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg


Music is undervalued in more ways than just through insufficient royalty payments for streaming audio – read this essay by Craig Havighurst.

Another “Mass” Review

Michael Caruso reviewed the recent performance of my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus for the Chestnut Hill Local. He remarks:

It was the Primosch that most caught my attention Sunday afternoon. The composer ingeniously combined sonic recollections of late medieval settings of the Greek and Latin Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass with contemporary overlays of poetic interpolations in which dissonances were sometimes jarring but never off-putting.

“Mass” Reviewed

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.

Upcoming in Easton MD and Philadelphia PA

I’ll be traveling to Easton, Maryland tomorrow for rehearsals and a performance of my recent Oboe Quartet. There will be an open rehearsal of the Quartet at 11:30 tomorrow, and the performance is this Thursday, June 18, at 5:30. Both events are at the Academy Art Museum in Easton as part of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival. The players will be Peggy Pearson, oboe; Robin Scott, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; and Marcy Rosen, cello; quite an all-star group. I am looking forward to hearing another interpretation of the piece after the fine performances by Peggy plus members of the Apple Hill Quartet earlier this year. It is such a treat to have multiple performances of a piece, an all-too rare occurrence.

But not entirely rare; after all, the other upcoming performance is also a reprise. The Crossing will revive my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, premiered last year at The Icebox in Philadelphia, and presented this coming Sunday at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia at 4:00 pm. The premiere was astonishingly fine – check it out on the video page (link above). The only problem with the video is that folks find it hard to make out the beautiful Denise Levertov texts that I have interwoven with the traditional Latin Mass, due not to any fault with the diction of the choir, but to the unusually resonant performance space. It will be interesting to hear it in a less dramatically resonant space this time around.

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.

Encore from The Crossing

UnknownThe 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.