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Director’s Corner Address from Christopher Kendall

CELEBRATING THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF COMPOSER JAMES PRIMOSCH (1956-2021)

Dear friends,

Among the gifts of long life, for an ensemble like the Consort, we are acquainted with composers for decades, listening to their voices change and develop. Of course, this kind of longevity also means outlasting some of these colleagues. One such, whose music the Consort has been lucky to perform for almost 40 years is Jim Primosch. Jim passed away on April 26, following a long and courageous struggle with pancreatic cancer. He joins Stephen Albert, Nicholas Maw and other, great composers and dear friends who left us too soon, but have left us radiant legacies of music.

Those who have been with the Consort long enough may remember Jim from our first encounters with him, as a disarmingly modest and thoughtful person, for a formidable pianist and brilliant composer, and someone with a depth and certain darkness that informed everything from his wry sense of humor to a warmly empathetic nature. Jim never failed to express his appreciation for the Consort’s championing of his work, but, of course, it was we who were fortunate that we could play a part in his extraordinary creations.

We first got to know Jim, already an accomplished pianist, in 1980, when he came down from Philadelphia to join Lambert and Jan Orkis in a performance of George Crumbs’s then freshly-minted “Celestial Mechanics” for piano 6-hands. These three repeated that epic work for Consort audiences three times - in 1985, when they also documented it in a memorable, early Consort recording - and again in 1999.

In the meantime, we got to know Jim as a composer, programming several of his early, acute, Davidofsky-influenced pieces. In addition to these hard-edged compositions, he had an abiding sacred side, and throughout his career he created ineffably beautiful music springing from a devout place in Jim.

It was fascinating to witness the melding of these bifurcated musical languages in Jim’s “middle period,” first in pieces in which they were proximate but held apart (his incredible “Sacra Conversazione” for instance) and then somehow, magically merged, as in the powerful Piano Quintet. These increasingly large-scaled pieces heralded his magnificent later works - lush, Romantic compositions often incorporating settings of poetry in German and English with an uncanny feeling for the sound and rhythm of the languages.

In these texted works, especially, Jim was unflinching in plumbing the depths, in an almost Mahlerian way and to a degree I think unusual in 21st century music. There was a demand for grappling with profound personal and spiritual matters, which, along with the masterful and idiomatic orchestrations, made experiencing his music challenging and important for performers and listeners alike.

The long history of the Consort’s relationship with Jim Primosch is available in recorded concert performances and on CDs of his work. The former is accessible from this link to the Consort website at the archive “Listen Now,” 40+ years of live concert recordings, with playback from the . The first archived Primosch piece you can hear is from 1982, followed by about 10 others works performed right up to 2019. The CDs of “Sacred Songs” and “Cathedral Music” are available at this Consort site link too, on Bridge and Albany Records, respectively.

If you have not yet experienced the music of James Primosch, I urge you to seek it out. If you have, and especially for those of us lucky enough to have known him, I know we will join in mourning this loss. Jim will be profoundly missed. His obituary in the Philadelphia Enquirer can be read at this link.

Christopher Kendall, artistic director