When honoring him with its Goddard Lieberson Fellowship, the American Academy of Arts and Letters noted that “A rare economy of means and a strain of religious mysticism distinguish the music of James Primosch… Through articulate, transparent textures, he creates a wide range of musical emotion.” Andrew Porter stated in The New Yorker that Primosch “scores with a sure, light hand” and critics for the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Dallas Morning News have characterized his music as “impressive,” “striking,” “grandly romantic,” “stunning” and “very approachable.”
Primosch’s compositional voice encompasses a broad range of expressive types. His music can be intensely lyrical, as in the song cycle Holy the Firm (composed for Dawn Upshaw) or dazzlingly angular as in Secret Geometry for piano and electronic sound. His affection for jazz is reflected in works like the Piano Quintet, while his work as a church musician informs the many pieces in his catalog based on sacred songs or religious texts.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1956, James Primosch studied at Cleveland State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University. He counts Mario Davidovsky, George Crumb and Richard Wernick among his principal teachers.
Primosch’s instrumental, vocal, and electronic works have been performed throughout the United States and in Europe by such ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Collage, the New York New Music Ensemble, and the Twentieth Century Consort. His Icons was played at the ISCM/League of Composers World Music Days in Hong Kong, and Dawn Upshaw included a song by Primosch in her Carnegie Hall recital debut. Commissioned works by Primosch have been premiered by the Chicago Symphony, Speculum Musicae, the Cantata Singers, and pianist Lambert Orkis. A second Chicago Symphony commission, Songs for Adam, premiered in October, 2009 (with baritone Brian Mulligan, in performances conducted by Sir Andrew Davis); and Luminism was commissioned and premiered by the Albany Symphony in May, 2010.
Among the honors he has received are a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three prizes from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (most recently, an Academy Award in 2010), a Regional Artists Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, the Stoeger Prize of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and a fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center where he studied with John Harbison. Organizations commissioning Primosch include the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Folger Consort, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Barlow Endowment, and the Network for New Music. In 1994 he served as composer-in-residence at the Marlboro Music Festival. Recordings of twenty-one compositions by Primosch have appeared on the Albany, Azica, Bard, Bridge, CRI, Centaur, and New World labels, with new discs of vocal and choral works planned.
James Primosch is also active as a pianist, particularly in the realm of contemporary music. He was a prizewinner at the Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition in Rotterdam, and appears on recordings for New World, CRI, the Smithsonian Collection, and Crystal Records. He has worked as a jazz pianist and a liturgical musician.
Since 1988, he has served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he directs the Presser Electronic Music Studio.
Cover Title (Subtitle) Duration Instrumentation Drag Here to Add To List Solo Christus Vincit
143-40013 4:00 Organ Little Suite
143-40014 9:00 Organ Meditation On “What Wondrous Love Is This?”
143-40009 4:00 Organ Piano Variations
For Solo Piano
140-40111 20:00 Piano Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift
140-40119 14:00 Piano Chamber Ensemble Badinerie Squared
For Two Flutes
144-40625 2:30 2 Flutes Chamber Concerto
for Clarinet and Chamber Ensemble
10177 17:00 Solo Cl.; 1Perc. Pno. Synthesizer Vl. Vcl. Cb. Chamber Symphony 14393 18:00 1(Picc.) 1 2(B.Cl. ext.) 0 – 1 1 1(F Attachment) 0; 2Perc. Pno. Str. Exchanges
For Flute And Bb Clarinet
144-40629 8:00 Woodwind Duet Fantasy-Variations 144-40229 16:30 Piano Trio Oboe Quartet 144-40651 18:00 Oboe Quartet Piano Quintet 144-40303 25:00 Piano Quintet Short Stories 144-40510 10:00 SATB Saxophones String Quartet No. 2
144-40218 18:00 String Quartet String Quartet No. 3 144-40398 20:00 String Quartet Times Like These
For Bb Clarinet And Piano
144-40602 8:00 Bb Clarinet, Piano Orchestra Five Meditations
14394 21:00 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str. Some Glad Mystery
14399 11:00 3 3 3 3 -4 3 3 1; Timp. 2Perc. Hp. Str. Variations on a Hymn Tune 21727 6:00 2(1 dbl. Picc.) 2 2 2 – 2 2 2 1; Timp. 3Perc. Str. Vocal / Choral Ariel Songs
For Voice And Piano
141-40093 10:00 Soprano, Piano Dark the Star
for Baritone and Chamber Ensemble
23469 22:00 Solo Bar.; Cl.(dbl. B.Cl.), Vcl., 1Perc., Pno. Fire-Memory/River-Memory
for SATB Chorus and Orchestra
10032 21:30 SATB Chorus; 3(Picc.) 2 2(B.Cl.) 2 – 4 2 2(B.Tbn.) 0; Timp. 2Perc. Hp. Str. Four Sacred Songs 14396 12:00 Sop. or Mezzo-sop.; Fl.(Picc.) Cl.(B.Cl.) Vln. Vcl. Perc. Hp. From a Book of Hours
for Soprano and Ensemble
23488 18:00 Solo Sop.; 1 1(dbl. E.H.) 1(dbl. B.Cl.) 0 – 1 0 0 0; 1Perc. Pno. Str. (22.214.171.124.1 or small ensemble) From a Book of Hours
for Soprano and Orchestra
10148 18:00 Solo Sop.; 3(dbl. Alto Fl./Picc.) 3(dbl. E.H.) 3(dbl. B.Cl.) 3 – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 3Perc. Cel.(Pno.) Hp. Str. From Psalm 116
For Voice and Piano
141-40047 3:00 Voice, Piano Holy The Firm 141-40055 21:00 Soprano, Piano Holy the Firm 23536 21:00 Solo Sop.; Fl. (dbl. Picc.), Cl.(dbl. B.Cl.); 1Perc. Hp. Str.(126.96.36.199.1 or small ensemble) Meditation for Candlemas
SATB Chorus, A Cappella
342-40174 4:00 SATB Chorus Songs and Dances from “The Tempest”
for Soprano, Baritone, and Ancient Instruments
14400 30:00 Ancient instruments (four players): Renaissance Lute, Citole, Medieval Hp., Psaltery,Treb.Viol., 2 B.Viols, Vielle, Rebec, 6Rec. (Sopranino, Sop. 2Alto, Ten., B.), Dumbek, Nakara, Crotales (E, B), Susp.Cym., Tamb. Songs and Dances from “The Tempest” 23537 30:00 Solo Sop., Solo Bar.; Fl.(dbl. Picc., AltoFl.) Hp. 1Perc. Vla. Vcl. Songs for Adam 17387 30:00 Solo Baritone; 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(dbl.E.H.) 3(dbl.B.Cl.) 3 – 4 3 3 1; 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str. Three Sacred Songs 441-41021 10:30 Voice, Piano Weil Alles Unsagbar Ist 141-40025 23:00 Voice with Instrument Works with Electronics Dream Journal
For Two Pianos, Two Percussion, and Tape
144-40302 25:00 Mixed Ensemble Sacra Conversazione
for Chamber Ensemble with Electronic Sound on Tape
14397 21:00 Vln. Vcl. Fl.(Picc./A.Fl.) Cl.(B.Cl.) Perc. Pno. Secret Geometry 140-40067 15:00 Piano, Tape
Not every composer’s music can support such weighty themes, but I find myself returning again and again to Primosch’s songs.
–Musical America Blog
…[his music] doesn’t strive always to be in a holy space, but instead to describe it and give it a human response. In this way Primosch is able to take us to, be in the presence of, and then take us out of, sacred time and space, an attribute which is at the center of the Western musical art form.
–Daniel Asia, Huffington Post
… a composer who always seems to get everything just right…
–Tom Purdom, Broad Street Review
…open, wandering lines led to a big, pumping midsection, then back to a dreamy coda…
–Miriam Seidel, Philadelphia Inquirer
DARK THE STAR
…gorgeous…it featured a brooding opening section, soaring and expressive vocal lines and creatively scored, beautiful instrumental writing.
–Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times
…22 minutes passes swiftly but with the sense of a journey taken that is of note and meaning, finding sacred space and then retreating from it.
–Daniel Asia, Huffinton Post
Strongly recognizable melodic sequences unfold and overlap in Primosch’s piece. The music builds and accelerates with almost a Brahmsian fervor…
–Lesley Valdes, Philadelphia Inquirer
The composer’s gift with words catches the subtle rhythms of the text in a way that makes it seem as if he has simply freed the music lurking just under the surface of the words.
–Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer
Primosch’s work centers on two poems by Denise Levertov about the Vietnam War’s destruction, finding a note of irony in wrapping the bitter words in often brilliant, dissonant music. He made a strong effect with singing and playing that in places began softly, then swelled to near-outcry, then returned to silence.
–Dan Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer
It revels in suspension and release, choral part writing that is set off very effectively by poetic orchestration, a solo violin part that weaves in and out of the neo-impressionist orchestral light and shadow. The final of the two movements has some fireworks of an orchestral sort and more of the beautiful choral writing that permeates the work as a whole.
–Grego Applegate Edwards, Classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com
FOUR SACRED SONGS
In Primosch’s “Four Sacred Songs,” the power of chant reasserted itself.
–Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer
The score is very approachable, handsomely made and austerely beautiful.
–John Ardoin, Dallas Morning News
…distinctive scoring, filled with sumptuous textures punctuated by percussive tintinnabulation.
–Musical America Blog
FROM A BOOK OF HOURS
Primosch is a composer whose work deserves wider exposure. …reveals both his sensitivity to the texts and to orchestral color as a means of extending and enhancing the dramatic possibilities of the human voice.
–John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
Rilke’s poems have a distinctly modern sensibility that was beautifully reflected in Primosch’s austere but profoundly thoughtful settings.
–Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times
Primosch’s musical language…is appropriately wide-ranging, sophisticated, and often unsettling.
–Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News
…songs that elegantly combine personal fervor and worldly sophistication.
–Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times
HOLY THE FIRM
The poetic words are sensitively matched to music that evokes images of fire, Jacob’s ladder, an everyday god and deathbed sensations.
–Wilma Salisbury, Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
…one of Primosch’s most striking cycles.
–Musical America Blog
These songs are unfailingly compelling, whether the musical language is complex or seemingly simple.
–Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News
The work succeeds largely because of the variety of textures employed, from dense contrapuntal figures to a blaze of sound when dawn breaks at the end of Hopkins’s poem…the oboe lines lent the music a welcome and crucial depth. Primosch showed a particular gift for choral writing: The a cappella parts were beautiful.
–David Weininger, Boston Globe
This new work is more than just an interesting piece that I would happily hear again; it’s a worthy and needed addition to a repertory that can’t be very large.
–Mark DeVoto, Boston Musical Intelligencer
…the middle section, Nocturne…weighs in as a perfect composite jewel: 3:32 of elegant, electro acoustic sensuality. A preceding Variations and concluding Toccata comprise a listener’s pleasure. I’m certain I’m hearing a masterpiece.
–Mike Silverton, Fanfare
…an impressive sonata structure built up from an economical array of fourths and tritones, with electronic tape and…piano blending in fully notated synchrony.
–Alex Ross, New York Times
…”Sonata-Fantasia” evinces an ear for keyboard sonority which is nothing if not inclusive. The work is composed for piano and synthesizer, cross-cut and superimposed so that the sound of one merges directly out of, or into, the other…the two instruments combine in opening-out the timbral and dynamic spectrum to impressive effect. …cordially recommended…
–Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone
…a tour de force for piano and synthesizer… The unusual sounds from the Kurzweil synthesizer expand the timbral possibilities of the piano and the horizons of the listener.
–Gail Wein, The Washington Post
SONGS AND DANCES FROM “THE TEMPEST”
…there is something about Primosch’s music that both grounds and makes the composition soar. …”Come Unto These Yellow Sands” from Act I, scene ii was a big wow. Decidedly pleasing was the soothing but subdued closing duet “Our Revels Now Are Ended.” It left [this author] wanting more of Primosch.
–Karren LaLonde Alenier, www.scene4.com/karrenlalondealenier
SONGS FOR ADAM
…intriguing and beautiful… Stewarts’s poetic images…melds comfortably with Primosch’s lyrical, essentially tonal harmonic grammar. The vocal writing for baritone ranges from introspective to angry declamation, bestriding a large orchestra that is used with acute subtlety, sensitivity and evocative instrumental color, never covering the singer.
–John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
…much of the scoring is strikingly luminous and transparent.
–Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review
“Adam” is the work of a skilled melodist and orchestrator.
–Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times
It has confidence of expression… Primosch pushes both himself and thus his listeners onto new ground with Susan Stewart’s verse… Both poet and composer share an ability to contemplate how basic elements of existence might feel for the first time, and the duo know how to capture that in their respectively cultivated vocabularies, with an emotional rightness that never becomes too analytical. …well written for the voice…masterly orchestration…
–David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer
STRING QUARTET NO. 2
…a handsome, somewhat elegiac work, built around a hymn tune, written in a language that is both harmonically diverse and emotionally unified…a satisfying and personal statement.
–Tim Page, New York Newsday
…Particularly striking… Primosch’s quartet…draws its musical raw materials from the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The hymn tune is serene, melancholy and medieval, and it makes a strong effect when Mr. Primosch brings it back unadorned between imaginative variations that range from the violent and harsh to the grandly romantic.
–Allan Kozinn, New York Times
THREE SACRED SONGS
James Primosch’s “Three Sacred Songs” for soprano and piano are tonal and ardent.
–Lesley Valdes, Philadelphia Inquirer
WEIL ALLES UNSAGBAR IST (BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS UNSAYABLE)
…stunning in its ability to illuminate texts… Primosch…is a master of text painting…
–Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer
Albany Records (TROY1615); February 1, 2016
Performer(s): 21st Century Concert; Christopher Kendall, conductor; Mary Mackenzie, soprano
Work(s): Sacred Songs and Meditations
TIMES LIKE THESE
Potenza Music (); August 1, 2014
Performer(s): Lisa Oberlander, clarinet; Yien Wang, piano
Work(s): Times Like These
Bridge Records (Bridge 9422); March 11, 2014
Performer(s): Susan Narucki, soprano; William Sharp, baritone; 21st Century Consort, Christopher Kendall, conductor
Work(s): Dark the Star
Four Sacred Songs
From a Book of Hours
Holy the Firm
Bard Records (); January 1, 2008
Performer(s): Folger Consort
Work(s): Songs and Dances from “The Tempest”
ALECK KARIS: SECRET GEOMETRY
New World Records (CD 707); February 1, 2007
Performer(s): Aleck Karis, piano
Work(s): Secret Geometry
Azica Records (ACD71229); February 7, 2006
Performer(s): Karel Paukert, organ
Work(s): Meditation on “What Wonderful Love Is This?”
Albany Records (TROY488); January 1, 2002
Performer(s): Network for New Music Ensemble
Work(s): Dream Journal
NEW ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC MUSIC
Centaur Records (CRC2338); August 12, 2000
Performer(s): New York New Music Ensemble
Work(s): Sacra Conversazione
CRI/New World Records (80523-2); April 8, 1998
Performer(s): Cavani Quartet; Leonardo Trio; James Primosch, piano
Work(s): Fantasy – Variations
String Quartet No. 2 (after Zurbarán)
2014: Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Composers Competition
2010: Academy Award in Music, American Academy of Arts and Letters
2008, 2004, 2002, 1998, 1990: Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant
2005: Independence Foundation Fellowship
2001, 1988: Residencies at MacDowell Colony
2000: Nominee, Alpert Award in the Arts
1999: Elise Stoeger Prize of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
1996: Pew Fellowship in the Arts
1996, 1994, 1990, 1989, 1987, 1985, 1982, 1980: Meet the Composer grant
1995: Winner, G. Schirmer Young American Art Song Competition
1994: Composer-in-residence, Marlboro Music Festival
1994: Regional Visiting Artist, American Academy in Rome
1993: Goddard Lieberson Fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters
1992: Cleveland Arts Prize
1992: Residency at Bellagio Conference and Study Center
1991-1992: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship
1990, 1985: American Music Center copying assistance grant
1988: Winner, League of Composers/ISCM National Composers Competition; work subsequently heard at World Music Days, Hong Kong
1987: Winner, New Music Consort Composition Contest
1986-87, 1982-84: Graduate Assistantships in Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center
1985: Guggenheim Fellowship
1985: Charles Ives Scholarship, American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters
1985: Residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
1984, 1982: ASCAP Foundation Young Composer Grant
1984: Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship in composition, Berkshire Music Center Tanglewood
1984: Tanglewood Prize in composition, Berkshire Music Center
1984-1985: Preceptorship, Columbia University
1984: Eda and Boris Rappoport Prize in composition, Columbia University
1983: Finalist, Ancona Prize for composition, Ancona, Italy
1982: BMI Student Composers Award
1982: First Prize, Holtkamp Organ Composition Contest
1981-1982: Scholarship, Columbia University
1981: Joseph H. Bearns Prize in composition
1980-1981: Third Prize, Shreveport Symphony Composer
1981: Scholarship for Yale Composer
1980: David Halstead Prize in composition, University of Pennsylvania
1980: Recognition award from Mader Memorial Fund Composition Contest
1979-1980: CBS Foundation Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania
1979, 1980: Fellowships for Composers Conference, Johnson, Vermont
1979: Helen L. Weiss Prize in composition, University of Pennsylvania
1978-1979: University Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania
1978: Named member of Pi Kappa Lambda (national music honor society)
1977: Third prize and “people
1976-1978: Scholarships from Cleveland Fortnightly Music Club, including Arthur Loesser Memorial Scholarship, 1977-78
1974-1978: Fine Arts Scholarships from Cleveland State University
for Clarinet and Chamber EnsembleFour Sacred Songs
for Voice and EnsembleFrom a Book of Hours
Four Songs for Soprano and EnsembleFrom a Book of Hours
Four Songs for Soprano and OrchestraSongs for Adam
for Baritone and OrchestraVariations on a Hymn Tune