PRISM Quartet joins The Crossing Choir for world premiere

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/9/23

The Crossing, the Grammy Award-winning choir founded and directed by Donald Nally, will be joined by the PRISM Quartet to present the world premiere of Martin Bresnick’s “Self-Portraits 1964, Unfinished.”

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PRISM Quartet joins The Crossing Choir for world premiere


The Crossing, the Grammy Award-winning choir founded and directed by Donald Nally, will be joined by the PRISM Quartet to present the world premiere of Martin Bresnick’s “Self-Portraits 1964, Unfinished” Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m. in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, located on Rittenhouse Square in Center City. The Crossing’s home base is the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, where many of their challenging concerts of contemporary choral music are performed. This concert is being co-sponsored by Penn Live Arts.

The Crossing’s initial collaboration with the PRISM Quartet of saxophones was to perform Gavin Bryar’s “The Fifth Century,” which resulted in the choir’s first Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.

Bresnick is recognized as both a renowned contemporary composer and an influential teacher of composition. He has filled his new work with a tumultuous journey of questioning, whimsy and stoicism. The colors and textures of saxophones and voices are woven together to create a series of compelling sound worlds. The score demonstrates the remarkable compatibility of and similarities between saxophone and voice.

The program also features Bernd Franke’s 2005 composition, “On the Dignity of Man,” a setting of excerpts from one of the most well-known philosophical documents of the 15th century, Giovanni Pico della Mirandolla’s undelivered speech of the same title. Also for saxophone quartet and choir, it is notably different from the Bresnick score in that the two ensembles live in separate sonic worlds.

The Crossing’s season continues with performances of John Luther Adams’ “Vespers of the Blessed Earth” with the Philadelphia Orchestra March 30-April 1 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. For more information, visit

Recorders at Woodmere

Tempesta di Mare’s New World Recorders quartet performed a concert entitled “Beginning, Middle, and End” in the beautiful and resonant rotunda of Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum late Saturday afternoon, Feb. 25. The audience was so large that it required setting out more chairs to accommodate the many local classical music lovers who heard stunning interpretations of music spanning the 14th through 20th centuries.

New World Recorders is comprised of Gwyn Roberts (co-founder/co-director of Tempesta di Mare, itself), Rainer Beckmann, Sarah Shodja and Heloise Degrugillier. Together they performed music that projected the most commonly-chosen structure for classical music across the centuries, that of a beginning, then a middle and finally a concluding section that often refers back to the score’s opening.

Although the vertical recorder was more or less replaced by the transverse flute as the baroque style transformed into the classical over the span of the 18th century, a quartet of recorders proffers a sufficient breadth and depth of color, texture and dynamics to render later music efficaciously. Even music by the romantic Robert Schumann and the modern late romantic Ralph Vaughan Williams blossomed in their hands.

The playing was technically expert and interpretively expressive. Ensemble was exemplary and projection was effortless.

Next on the schedule of “Classical Saturdays” at Woodmere Art Museum are “Sacred and Profane: Vocal Chamber Music in the 21st Century” with Variant 6, April 22 at 5 p.m.; and “Curtis @ Woodmere,” April 29 at 5 p.m.  For more information, visit

‘Songs of Thanksgiving’

The Fairmount String Quartet, now in residence at Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, presented a recital entitled “Songs of Thanksgiving” Saturday, Feb. 25, at the church and again Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Wynnefield Branch of Settlement Music School. The program featured Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor.

Composed in 1825, only two years before his death from longstanding intestinal maladies, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 is one of the most seminal works of the German-born composer’s “late period” of compositions. Following the more classical “early period” and the tumultuous “middle period,” the final stage of Beethoven’s output begins with his Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Opus 101, and continues through four more piano sonatas (Opuses 106 “Hammerklavier,” 109, 110 and 111) and six string quartets (Opuses 127, 130, 131, 132, 133 and 135).

Those three stylistic periods closely coincide with Beethoven’s battle with the onset of his eventual total loss of hearing. There are hints of his looming deafness in the “early period,” out-and-out warfare with it during the emotionally charged “middle period,” and a spiritual serenity of transcendent acceptance in the “late period” because the composer realized that, despite not being able to hear externally, he could still hear every note internally and, therefore, could continue to compose what most classical musicians consider a canon of music nearly equal in stature to that produced by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Fairmount players – violinists Rachel Segal and Leah Kyoungwoon Kim-Tomilson, violist Beth Dzwil and cellist Mimi Morris Kim – gave the Beethoven a heartfelt reading, catching its craggy beauty with intense conviction.

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