Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Composer Peter Askim does it all. Conductor of the Raleigh Civic Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, as well as Director of Orchestral Studies at North Carolina State University, he is also founder and Artistic Director of The Next Festival of Emerging Artists, focusing on the music of living composers. A few months ago, Peter added ‘Dad’ to his distinguished list of titles. If his reputation as a teacher and mentor tells us anything, he will be a natural. With so much going on in his life, it wasn’t easy for us to get this interview, but it was well worth the wait. Not only is Peter Askim a master of his Art, he is a warm, delightful human being. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did.
The composer has graciously provided program notes for the selections we play on this episode. We have included them below. You can learn more about Peter and his work by visiting his website at https://peteraskim.com/ His Sound Cloud channel is at https://soundcloud.com/peteraskim Don't forget to stay up to date with what's Next at the Next Festival. https://next-fest.org/ Enjoy the show!
1. Edge for Solo Double Bass
Performed by Peter Askim
Edge is the sharp but delicate lines of a cut diamond; the sheen of sound as it slices the silence; the precision of a surgical knife. Edge is the gritty underside of the pulsing city: dangerous, vital. It is a slalom ski as it speeds downhill – barely balancing and almost, but not quite, losing control. Precarious, but exhilarating…
2. A Late Winter, An Early Spring
Performed by the Cantus Ensemble Zagreb, Croatia, Ivan Josip Skender, Conducting
The American poet Elizabeth Bishop often writes about the harsh natural beauty of the northeastern United States, where Peter was raised. Her poem “The End of March,” describes a long walk on a beach on a cold day, in the time before winter has finally yielded to spring.
“Everything was withdrawn as far as possible,/indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken,/seabirds in one or twos....Then we came on lengths and lengths, endless, of wet white string, looping up to the tide-line, down to the water, over and over...
The sun came out for just a minute. For just a minute, set in the their bezels of sand, the drab, damp, scattered stones were multi-colored, and all those high enough threw out long shadows, Individual shadows, then pulled them in again.”
Like the poem, the music begins and ends with coldness: stony, dark, shrouded and still. In between, thin, tentative filaments unfurl, uncoiling themselves, reaching outward tentatively, like the first early roots through hard spring ground. Hopeful, new and strange, they wind and twist, circling back on themselves like a “wet white string” on the tide. They reach toward the late winter sun: distant, but blazing and blinding.
Grey yields to color, then overtakes it. Shadows grow, lengthen and then withdraw. Prayer-like and whispering, spring waits, patiently.
The music was commissioned by the Cantus Ensemble and the Croatian Composers’ Society. It is dedicated to the Cantus musicians and to conductor Ivan Josip Skender.
3. Our Passage to the Stars
Performed by Olga Kleiankina, Piano
Our Passage to the Stars is an emotional journey - one that encompasses great intensity and intense fragility but that is always fundamentally, deeply human. It is truly music of extremes - of the heavens and of Earth, of explosion and dissipation, of volatility and serene calm, of swirling supernovas and the vast emptiness of indifferent space. Of transcendent dreams of flight and the immutable reality of gravity.
Somehow, throughout, there is always the searching…
4. As Glaciers Thaw
Peformed by the Tokyo Symphony; Naoto Otomo, Conductor
Commissioned by the Iolani Concert Orchestra and premiered in Honolulu in December 1999.
As Glaciers Thaw opens with the icy coldness of a glacier – majestic, pure, indifferent – holding within it eons of frozen time, eternity crystallized. As the ice warms, tiny rivulets form, growing with the heat into streams, rivers, torrents. Mammoth chunks of ice break free, transported on the flowing currents, floating on cascades of newly freed rivers, millions of years old. The summer sunlight, in its reflected brilliance, sparkles and shimmers, burning our eyes with the intensity of a magnifying glass. Passing clouds bring only momentary relief, cooling briefly with their fleeting shadows. The winter returns, night falls. The flowing water slows, freezes, stops. Darkness descends and iciness returns, trapping within it the brilliance of a season past, frozen – preserved for eternity in memory and ice.