James Primosch


Dr. Robert Weiss Professor of Music


Room 305, Lerner Music Building

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." The New Yorker stated 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.

James Primosch studied at Cleveland State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University. His principal teachers include Mario Davidovsky, George Crumb, and Richard Wernick. A fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center permitted him to study with John Harbison.

Primosch's instrumental, vocal, and electronic works have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the New York New Music Ensemble, and the 21st 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 include two pieces premiered by the Chicago Symphony and two by the Albany Symphony, as well as projects for the Fromm and Koussevitzky Foundations and the Barlow Endowment.

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, a Regional Artists Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome, and the Stoeger Prize of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Twenty-five compositions by Primosch have appeared on CD. Two recordings of vocal and piano works, including an all-Primosch disc by The Crossing, will be released in 2020.

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 (re-released on Innova), and Crystal Records. He has studied jazz piano and worked as a liturgical musician.

He has served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania since 1988.

Please visit jamesprimosch.com for more information and audio work samples.


Research Interests

consortium commission for 12 American pianists
work for flute and piano, commissioned by Philadelphia Chamber Music Society


Courses Taught

Undergraduate Courses

Music Theory I (MUSC070)

Music Theory II (MUSC071)

Music Theory III (MUSC170)

Graduate Courses

Musicianship (MUSC508)

Electronic Music (MUSC530)

Analysis of Twentieth Century Music I (MUSC515)

Analysis of Twentieth Century Music II (MUSC516)

Seminar in Composition (MUSC700)

Selected Publications

Luminism (Albany Symphony commission) 2010
Songs for Adam (Chicago Symphony commission) 2009
From a Book of Hours (Chicago Symphony commission) 2001
Forms of Light (Big Ten wind ensembles commission) 2005
Holy the Firm (Barlow Foundation commission) 1999
Sacra Conversazione (Fromm Foundation commission) 1994
String Quartet #2 (after Zurbaran) (Cleveland Museum of Art commission) 1991

All works published by Theodore Presser Co.

Recent Recordings

Times Like These
Albany Rrcords
Jean Kopperud, clarinet; Stephen Gosling, piano
released August, 2010

Bridge Records
Lambert Orkis, piano and synthesizer.
released 2003

Dream Journal
Albany Records
Network for New Music
released 2002

Quartet #2, Fantasy-Variations, Piano Quintet, Icons
New World Records
Cavani Quartet, Leonardo Trio, Jean Kopperud, Aleck Karis, James Primosch
released 1998

CV (file)