In Memoriam: James Primosch, Composer and Pew Fellow

03 May 2021


Pew Fellow James Primosch. Photo by Deborah Boardman.

Pew Fellow James Primosch passed away on April 26 at the age of 65. He composed instrumental, vocal, and electronic works that were performed throughout the world, and he was an accomplished pianist.

“Jim was a composer with a brilliant, singular, and uncompromising voice,” PRISM Quartet executive director and Pew Fellow Matthew Levy said in an email. PRISM Quartet commissioned and performed a number of Primosch’s compositions. “He worked with leading artists and ensembles the world over, producing music that engaged the mind and soul. His artistic legacy is deeply connected to his character: rigorous, complex, powerful, wryly humorous, tender, lyrical. His music could embody these traits all at once.”

In addition to his Pew Fellowship in 1996, Primosch’s body of work earned him a 2020 Virgil Thomson Award in Vocal Music, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, prizes from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and numerous other honors. His compositions have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Collage, the New York New Music Ensemble, The Crossing, PRISM Quartet, and many other ensembles. He released recordings of 35 of his compositions.  

The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that while Primosch was “personally introverted, he formed deep bonds that made him a central player in the Philadelphia music community.”

Pillar is kind of a cliche word, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement,” Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, told the Inquirer. The Crossing performed Primosch’s work many times, including the album Carthage, which consisted of six of Primosch’s compositions and received a 2021 Grammy nomination for best choral performance.

Primosch earned his BA from Cleveland State University, his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, and his PhD from Columbia University. He joined Penn’s faculty in 1988 and served in that role until the time of his death.

Listen to samples of Primosch’s work on his website.