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A conversation with Peter Askim

Peter Askim
Conductor, Peter Askim, is the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's second music director candidate. Peter will be leading the orchestra for this weekend's Holiday Pops concerts.

VPR host James Stewart, interviews the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's second candidate for the music director position, conductor, Peter Askim.

James Stewart:
This weekend the Vermont Symphony Orchestra will be presenting their Holiday Pops concerts in Barre, Burlington and Rutland. Not only is this a chance to share in some holiday favorites, it is also an opportunity to meet the VSO’s second Music Director candidate, Peter Askim. Peter is currently the artistic director of the Next Festival of Emerging Artists and also the director of orchestral studies at North Carolina State University.

I had a chance to speak with Peter Askim via Zoom and talk about his experience, his hopes for the VSO and what we can expect from this weekend’s pops concerts.

Peter is originally from Maine, but he’s worked with ensembles across the country from Hawaii to North Carolina. I began our conversation by asking Peter what that experience has taught him.

Peter Askim:
You know, it's interesting. In every place that I've been, music has been a really important part of the community. And the relationship between the community and the musicians, and the music and the performing arts organizations, has been unique to every single place. There's a real spirit of place. Every place has its own identity and relationship to this amazing thing that we call music. That's one of the things, actually, that I'm most impressed about, and excited about, about coming to Vermont, as I've already had a taste of that spirit and the way that the community is involved in the orchestra and excited about the orchestra.

I was just looking at your bio on VSO.org, and I noticed that you've been a champion of new music quite a bit, what's the root of that passion for you?

I'm also a composer. I grew up playing all kinds of different music. In fact, the height of my rock'n'roll career, playing in a garage band, was opening up for the Lemonheads at Middlebury College. So, I'm really excited about composers who bring their own perspectives who tell us something about themselves and their backgrounds and all of our humanity. I love working with the great composers of today, and I've been very lucky to work closely with some of some of today's finest composers. There's just a special relationship that happens. It's very special to be able to ask a composer exactly what did you mean by that? You know, we can't do that with Mozart or Beethoven. And sometimes the answers are really surprising and lead you to a much deeper understanding of what the composer intended.

And how would you bring this passion and these ideas to your work in Vermont?

There are things that the VSO is doing that orchestras across the country are just kind of starting to catch on to. There's a real forward vision already in the way that programming is done, in the way that community outreach has done, and that feels super exciting to me. It's something that's already in motion that I really want to join that moving train; to go to the communities, to go to the students, to go to the people and enrich their lives, and connect with people and create community. So that's what I'm really excited about it.

Tell us about the holiday Pops concert that's coming up on December 10th, 11th, and 12th, what can we expect from those performances?

So, what I wanted to do with the program was create a sense of joyousness, and a sense of celebration, and to really lean into all of the things that we think of as making the holiday special, but also showing a different side of the holidays. There's some really exciting new pieces that I'd love to share, new favorites of mine that I'd love to introduce; including one piece called “Rocket Sleigh” by Delvyn Case, which is like Rudolph on rocket fuel; super, super exciting. It's like a cinematic journey. Some beautiful music by William Grant Still called “Mother and Child”, really thinking about that special relationship that we have in our families and trying to reconnect with those really real and deep emotions and celebrating those things.

In short, it's a little bit of everything, but carefully curated. I love the way that it feels all put together. It's really a journey that we're going to go on and I feel super excited about this; as excited as I've been about any program that I've put together. Just can't wait to just get on stage and get cracking.

That was Peter Askim, the second Music Director candidate for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Peter will be conducting the VSO in this weekend’s Holiday Pops concerts. You can join the orchestra at the Barre Opera House Friday at 7:30, at the Flynn Center in Burlington Saturday at 7:30 and at the Paramount Theater in Rutland, Sunday at 4pm. Get details and tickets at VSO.org. You can also learn more about Peter Askim by exploring his website, peteraskim.com and also check out the website of the Next Festival of Emerging Artists, that’s next-fest.org.