I just got word that composer and conductor Edwin London has died. Ed was a horn player, and worked with Oscar Pettiford as well as in classical contexts, but it was as a conductor that he was best known. He founded two significant ensembles devoted to new music: Ineluctable Modality, a chorus at University of Illinois; and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, based at my alma mater, Cleveland State University. I left Cleveland just as Ed was joining the faculty at CSU, but he was generously supportive of my work, conducting performances of my pieces with the CCS. It was with the latter group that Ed made an exceptional contribution to new music, conducting many premieres encompassing a wide range of styles. I don’t know as much of his own music as I should – what I recall had an uncommon playful streak. Here‘s the only example of his music I found online. UPDATE: check the comments section where several composer colleagues have written about Ed and the generous support he offered.
James Primosch, composer
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 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.
His music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Lydian, Cavani, Cassatt, Ying, and Miami string quartets, the 21st Century Consort, the New York New Music Ensemble, Network for New Music, Dawn Upshaw, Lisa Saffer, Janice Felty, and Lambert Orkis. Twelve of his compositions have been recorded for Albany, Azica, Bard, Bridge, CRI, Centaur, Innova, and New World labels, with new discs of vocal and choral works planned.
Preparing the CD booklet for a disc of my vocal music, to be released by Bridge Records. The pieces are "Holy the Firm", "From a Book of Hours", "Four Sacred Songs", and "Dark the Star" and the performers are Susan Narucki, William Sharp, and the 21st Century Consort, directed by Christopher Kendall.
Current and upcoming composition projects:
- a setting of "The Call" by the 17th century poet George Herbert, to be premiered by Emmanuel Music on January 26, 2014.
- a new work commissioned by Network for New Music, scored for a mix of jazz and classical performers. This will be premiered on April 4, 2014, as part of a festival honoring John Harbison.
- a setting of Denise Levertov's "Mass for St. Thomas Didymus", juxtaposed with traditional Latin Mass texts, commissioned by The Crossing choir for a June 28, 2014 premiere.
- a cycle of songs for soprano and orchestra. Susan Stewart, whose poetry I have set in three previous pieces, has written new poems specifically for this project, to be called "A Sibyl".
- an oboe quartet for Peggy Pearson, commissioned by Winsor Music.
David Patrick Stearns on “Songs for Adam”
If there's anything out there like Primosch's Songs of Adam, I haven't heard it - though the music wears its singularity lightly, with no need to express itself radically. It has a confidence of expression that comes of Primosch's having written a steady stream of song cycles since the late 1990s. Composers are still drawing legitimate inspiration from poets of the increasingly distant past, such as Walt Whitman, but Primosch pushes both himself and thus his listeners onto new ground with Susan Stewart's verse, which are called songs in their printed version because they suggest music, especially in the first poem, in which Adam is stuttering his way into existence.
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.
In fact, Primosch enters the Korngold zone when describing Adam's intoxication with the word. Though words are set dramatically and in ways that are well written for the voice, the best moments are in the masterly orchestration, which gives an extra percussive spark to moments of discovery and unflinchingly confronts the agony of Adam's expulsion from Eden.
The pale strings capture his disappointment in the real world in an overall dramatic arc that's almost epic, going from the unimaginable (the beauty of Eden) to the unthinkable (the world's first children, Abel and Cain, and the world's first fratricide).
-Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 2010
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