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Chatting with Peter Askim

Composing, Conducting, Performing
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Wed Jun 1st, 2016

Peter Askim at Music Mountain. Photo by Kevin T. McEneaney

Last Wednesday evening before group rehearsal for The Next Festival of Emerging Artists, I sat down on an old bench outside Gordon Hall at Music Mountain with a cool breeze gently blowing and spoke with amiable Peter Askim, a former bass player for the Honolulu Symphony and occasional bassist for the St. Petersburg Quartet. Askim currently serves as the conductor for the Raleigh Civic Symphony in North Carolina.

Although born in Europe, his childhood was spent in rural Maine north of Portland. Askim began playing piano about the age of eight. At the age of nine he recalls being impressed and inspired by a performance of the legendary Murray Perahia at the piano. While in high-school in California, he took up clarinet. A step-father of his played electric bass in Dixie Land band. When he retired, he sought to sell his instrument and Askim so admired the instrument, he bought the bass. It turned out to be more difficult to play than Askim had ever imagined, but he persisted. To this day, Askim is comfortable playing both jazz and classical, a feat that few musicians ever master. Askim notes that all genres of music possess good music: the trick is to sort the sheep from the goats.

Askim has taught at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, the University of Hawaii, and now at the University of North Carolina. Having studied under some wonderful teaches like Ludwig Striker, first bassist of the Vienna Philharmonic who had a solo career as a bassist, Askim loves to teach and considers teaching an integral part of his identity. His open and gentle manner invites questions. The harder the question, the more enthusiastic he becomes.

Askim's love of music is contagious. He describes himself as an omnivorous musician, loving all genres, but especially dedicated to classical music. He's particularly fond of Dvorák, Bartók, Dutilleux, Ligeti, and Kurtág, whom he has heard play with his wife in Manhattan a few years ago. Askim notes that "it doesn't matter when the music was written," that what attracts him is interesting music: he's always searching the present as well as the horizon for new and exciting discoveries. He is a man who exudes confidence in creativity, an important aspect of teaching and composing.

And that is why and how he has found himself working with talented musicians from around the world. When he conducts or performs premieres, he always asks for feedback from the audience. You can be at Music Mountain this Friday afternoon to offer such feedback at a free concert of work by living composers. See the Arts & Music Section for more details.