by Christy Rain
NC State’s new director of orchestral studies, Dr. Peter Askim, is as vibrant, talented and unique as the ensembles that he began directing Fall Semester 2014. Askim, a conductor, composer, bassist and educator, is excited about his new role as the conductor of the Raleigh Civic Symphony and the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra. He looks forward to continuing previous conductor Randolph Foy’s emphasis on cutting-edge performance and musical exploration.
Askim said, “These orchestras have a history of adventurous programming – a wide range of music is already in the DNA of the groups. I don’t have to squeeze myself into a box here and it is really exciting. This is the kind of music that makes me tick. Playing a wide variety of music is important and it changes the way you play. If you play contemporary music, it changes the way you play Beethoven and vice versa. I look forward to diving in!”
Prior to his arrival at NC State, Askim served as music director and composer-in-residence at the prestigious Idyllwild Arts Academy in California. At Idyllwild, Askim taught phenomenally talented young high school students who had already committed to pursuing music careers.
At NC State, Askim will conduct and teach talented musicians who are all students majoring in something other than music.
“You get a more intense experience when people from different backgrounds come together and harness their energy. It makes for more interesting music and people.” Askim said. “I have a liberal arts background. My college orchestra was made up of majors of all different fields and I think it makes for smarter, more engaged musicians. My colleagues from my undergraduate music ensembles have gone on to make major contributions to science, medicine, law and the humanities, in addition to music,” Askim said.
Askim’s own contributions to music include founding The Next Festival of Emerging Artists in 2013. The festival is an intensive and immersive one-week residency for young professional string players focused on musical exploration, entrepreneurial thinking and contemporary performance practice. The festival provides next-generation artists a chance to hone their craft and collaborate with world-class guest artists. Askim also provided monetary support to students who couldn’t afford to attend with funds he helped raise through the organization. He remains the festival’s artistic director.
Askim thrives in settings where collaboration and creativity are embraced so it is no coincidence that Askim sought out NC State’s orchestral program, which also embodies these qualities.
The Raleigh Civic Symphony and the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra are comprised of both student and community performers. This unique arrangement allows amateur musicians to have the opportunity to learn about music and work with professional and semi-professional musicians in rehearsal, coached sections and performances.
“This is the best of both worlds and the initial reason I was interested in the job,” Askim explained. “In a community orchestra, you may be missing a second chair instrument and in the school orchestra, you may have the opposite need. So, when you bring together the two, needs are met and there is great talent and opportunity.“
Another unique layer of collaboration that Askim finds attractive is that the orchestra receives support from the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association (RCSA). The non-profit organization was formed in 1975 to specifically support the NC State orchestra program.
“The nonprofit board brings in another vision, more hands to help do the work and provide financial support,” Askim said. “With all of these contributions, more possibilities exist.“
In addition to conducting, Askim is teaching Music of the 20th Century this semester as a faculty member in the Music Department. With previous experience as a lecturer at University of Hawaii at Manoa and as a teaching assistant at University of Texas at Austin, Askim says he relishes returning to the intellectual atmosphere of a university and finds that the students’ broad worldviews and the faculty members’ research provides inspiration and a fresh perspective on his work.
Dr. Tom Koch, Interim Director of the Music Department, sums up Askim’s arrival, “Dr. Askim brings to the Music Department a wealth of experience in orchestral conducting, composition, and performance. As director of The Next Festival of Emerging Artists and director and composer-in-residence of the Idyllwild Arts Academy, Dr. Askim dramatically raised the visibility of the music programs at those distinguished institutions. Peter has dedicated his life to teaching talented young people and cultivating in them a sense of curiosity, an appreciation for the arts, and a drive for excellence. We are excited about the possibilities that Peter can achieve with the orchestra program at NC State.”