Interview and Video in Penn’s Omnia

Omnia is the magazine of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, and the journal has just issued an interview with me on the occasion of the Virgil Thomson Award I received earlier this year from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. You can read the interview here, and here is the video associated with the interview:

James Primosch | “Carthage” and “Descent/Return” from Penn Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.

“Variations on a Hymn Tune” at Penn

University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra

I took the above picture last night at a rehearsal of my Variations on a Hymn Tune with the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Hong conducting. They will be performing the piece this coming Saturday night, 2/22, at 8 pm in Irvine Auditorium on the Penn campus. There have been a few performances of the piece, both in the Philadelphia area and in the Midwest, but this is the first time it will be heard at Penn. Here’s a program note on the piece:

Composed at the request of the Council Rock School District in Bucks County, PA, these variations are based on a 19th century hymn tune called “Ebenezer”, written by Welsh composer Thomas J. Williams. I came to know the tune with the text “Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow”, but my music does not reflect that somewhat lugubrious title! I tried to write a piece that would include a variety of moods, and would give each orchestral section a chance to shine.

After a short introduction, the hymn is heard in the violins. Variations 1 and 3 treat the tune contrapuntally, with the tune sometimes played at different speeds simultaneously. Variations 2 and 4 change the rhythm of the hymn more dramatically. The extended ending of the 4th variation recalls some of the gestures of the introduction.

The piece is in the Theodore Presser rental catalog, and Presser has posted an online perusal score of the piece here. While the work was written for a high school ensemble, it is certainly appropriate for college or community orchestras. The Penn Orchestra is doing a great job, and I am grateful to the players and conductor Thomas Hong for their work on the piece.


“Holy the Firm” at Penn and at Westminster Choir College

h-the-fSoprano Jamie Jordan will be offering three songs from my cycle Holy the Firm as part of her recital with pianist Steven Beck at Penn tomorrow evening (2/22/17) – go here for more on the concert, and click here for a PDF of the program. The piece will be heard again later this week, as  J. J. Penna has programmed the complete cycle as the closing event of Westminster Choir College’s 2017 Art Song Festival. I don’t yet have the name of who will be singing at Westminster, but J. J. will be playing piano and I will update this post with the singer’s name as soon as I get it. The concert is this Saturday, 2/25, at 7:30 in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus. More information here. UPDATE: vocal duties for Holy the Firm will be shared by Katie O’Mara, Sarah Cooper, and Rebecca Achtenberg, all students at Westminster.

Xak Bjerken at Penn

xakbjerken-al-cropped-200x154Pianist Xak Bjerken offers recent music by Hartke, Stucky, Salonen, Jones, as well as classics by Debussy and Scriabin in a recital at Penn this coming Wednesday, October 19. The free 8 pm program is in Rose Recital Hall, located on the 4th floor of Fisher-Bennett Hall, at the corner of 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia.

I saw Xak play the Stucky Sonata at a memorial for Steve last season, and it was an intensely moving performance. Here’s the complete lineup:

Images, Book II – Claude Debussy
Post-Modern Homages, Set II – Stephen Hartke
Sonata for Piano – Steven Stucky
Iscrizione per un amico – Esa-Pekka Salonen
The Flames of the Sun Make the Desert Flower Hysterical – Stephen Hartke
Ephemera – Jesse Jones
Sonata No. 9, op. 68 “Black Mass” – Alexander Scriabin

Celebrating Crumb and Wernick

Sadly, thanks to the failure of a car service that was supposed to pick him up, Dick Wernick was not at the concert we had at Penn featuring his music and that of George Crumb. However, George did get there, and here are a few pictures to prove it.

First, George and his wife Liz after the concert (in the background, Penn emeritus Tom Connolly with his wife):


Min-Young Kim, first violin of the Daedalus Quartet, which had just played George’s Black Angels, chatting with George:


Here’s a close-up of George:

IMG_0380 2

And a picture of many, many Penn composers:


standing from left: Andrew Davis, Kai Young Chan, Michael McMillan, Gerald Levinson, myself, Luke Carlson, Jay Reise, Ke-Chia Chen, Marc LeMay, with George and Liz Crumb seated.

Leonard Meyer’s Papers

meyer4I got a message not long ago that the papers of music theorist Leonard B. Meyer have now been catalogued and are ready to be accessed by scholars in the Special Collections of the University of Pennsylvania library. Meyer’s writings in books such as Emotion and Meaning in Music, Music, The Arts, and Ideas, and Understanding Music are exceptionally insightful and elegantly written. I had the privilege of taking a course with Meyer while I was a grad student at Penn. I think he was especially hard on the composers in the class (“only a composer would think sonata form is a three-part form” – the implication being that only a composer would be so foolish) because of his own background as a composer, something of which I was not aware at the time. (I did manage to get a hard-won A- from Lenny for my Debussy paper.) He was generously supportive in attending New York performances of my music during his later years. Find a blog post about Lenny and his papers here.

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.

Reichert and Primosch at Penn

UnknownI am in the home stretch of practicing for next week’s recital at Penn with my good friend Linda Reichert. Here is our program, entirely American music:

LEVINSON:  Morning Star
PERSICHETTI:  Winter Solstice
HARBISON:  Leonard Stein Anagrams
PRIMOSCH:  Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift
COPLAND:  Piano Sonata


I will play the Harbison and Copland, and Linda covers the Persichetti and my own piece (in its Philly premiere). We will jointly offer the Levinson, a four-hand piece. The concert is next Wednesday, February 26, at 8:00 pm in Rose Recital Hall, on the 4th floor of Fisher-Bennett Hall, 3340 Walnut Street (corner of 34th and Walnut) on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Admission is free and there will be a modest reception to follow. I will be gradually posting program notes over the next several days.

That’s Fisher-Bennett Hall pictured above.

Showing Up

Do the Math affirms the old principal that a goodly portion of life is about showing up. Here are a few things at which you may show up:

– I’ll be introducing a talk by George Lewis at my day job tomorrow, Sept. 12, 5:15 in the Music Building on the Penn campus. It feels a little like I am introducing a panel discussion – we will be hearing from a trombonist of historic important with a huge discography; a pioneer of electronic music, particularly in live and improvised contexts; and a musicologist who wrote an important history of the AACM.

Here is George Lewis speaking prior to a program of his music at Columbia’s Miller Theatre in 2012:

– the first of two all-Harbison Songfusion programs is this Friday in NYC. My friend Mary Mackenzie will be doing Simple Daylight, John’s emotionally devastating and impeccably crafted song cycle on Michael Fried texts, written for and recorded by Dawn Upshaw. The program includes instrumental works as well as vocal; the players include Ben Fingland, who gave that fine performance of my clarinet concerto last season.

– Judith Gordon, who premiered my piano consortium commission last spring, will take the piece out for another spin later this month. She will include Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift on a Sage Chamber Music Society concert, Sunday, September 29 at 4. The program is free, and will take place at Sweeney Concert Hall on the Smith College campus. More soon on performances of my music this coming season – for now click on the “performances” tab above.