Monday, February 05, 2007

Five Things about James Primrosch

I was able to hear the 50th Birthday celebration recital at University of Pennsylvania Sunday afternoon at Rose Recital Hall for composer James Primrosch. I met Jim last month when John Harbison was visiting.
1. The concert started with the Prism Quartet in a work from 2003, Short Stories. It was a quality piece of chamber music based on Sam Shepard stories, a Chirstmas present from the composer's wife.
2. The largest work on the program was Piano Variations, in a new (first performance) version played by the astounding Stephen Gosling. Originally it was part of the Sonata-Fantasia for piano and synthesizer, now all acoustic. It certainly ran the range and drama of the entire keyboard and explored all 88 keys, much to the flashiness and musicality of Gosling. It also was convincing music and knowledge of the keyboard prowess of Primrosch.
3. After intermission, Gosling was back, this time with electronics in 1993's Secret Geometry. It's a dated work and while entertaining not my cup of tea. It's not that I don't appreciate electronic music, and maybe its partially hearing the quality of the variations before it that this paled by comparison.
4. The Prism Quartet brought out two more works, a short premiere (from 2007!) of I Never Knew and a jazzy Straight Up from 2004.
5. If you're a believer in "best for last" sort of programming or philosophy, you'd be in seventh heaven with Holy the Firm from 1999. It's a song cycle premiered by Dawn Upshaw out in Utah. Sunday's performance was with the dedicated and delicous Lucy Shelton, collaborating with Gosling again at the keyboard. It was a moving reading, and is a brilliant and touching score. I joked with Lucy afterwards that we should have sang "Happy Birthday" afterwards, and she joked about it not rising to the occasion harmonically, I about needing some electronic accompaniment!

There are several cds of Primrosch's music available, as well as the Prism Quartet and Lucy Shelton - check them out, you'll be glad you did!

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