Energetic young composer, conductor, performer and educator talks to FBPO about how he is leading the bass effort at California’s Idyllwild Arts Academy
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
August 17, 2009
Bassist Peter Askim has been lauded for his achievments as a peformer, composer and conductor. A frequest recitalist and soloist throughout the world, Askim has been a member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member of the University of Hawaii-Manoa. He was the winner of the 2002 International Society of Bassists Competition and has also received critical praise as a jazz artist in various publications, including Jazztimes, the New York Post and New York Newsday.
As a composer, Askim has been called a “Modern Master” by the Strad and has had commissions and performances from such groups as the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the Honolulu Symphony, Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Chamber Music Festival and many others. As a conductor, he has served as Music Director of the Branford Chamber Orchestra and makes frequent guest conducting appearances with the Sewanee Philharmonia, the Oregon Festival of American Music, the Wroclaw (Poland) Chamber Orchestra and other orchestras.
Peter studied at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna and holds bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees from Yale University, where he graduated with Distinction in Music. He also holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition from the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, he serves as Music Director and Composer-in-Residence of the Idyllwild Arts Academy.
FBPO: Your bio is indicative of someone who is genuinely passionate about music in general, double bass in particular. What kind of musical upbringing did you have and how did you end up where you are?
PA: I started out playing electric bass, and did just about every kind of music – alternative, punk, classic rock, heavy metal and a day and-a-half in a country band! I also played a lot of jazz and gradually switched to double bass. I started studying classical and was playing both classical and jazz very seriously through school. I think my appetite and experience in playing so many styles has really helped form who I am as a musician. My rhythmic and harmonic concepts, as well as a certain spontaneity in my playing, conducting and composing, came out of this “omnivorousness.”
FBPO: Tell me about the Idyllwild Arts Academy, specifically, the music division.
PA: Idyllwild Arts Academy is an arts boarding school two hours from both Los Angeles and San Diego. There are seven majors: Music, Dance, Theater, Creative Writing, Visual Arts, Film and Interdisciplinary Arts. Students come from around the world to study and work on their craft. Music is the largest (and most international) department, with students regularly winning competitions and going on to the best conservatories, colleges and universities in the country, including Juilliard, Curtis, New England Conservatory, Rice, U.S.C. and others. Our alumni include the principal oboe player of New York Philharmonic, principal French horn player of Lorin Maazel’s new orchestra and the Assistant Concertmaster of the London Symphony.
Students study their academic subjects in the mornings and spend their afternoons and evenings working on their music. The orchestra is one of the best youth orchestras in the country. Our students regularly have opportunities to perform with guest artists like Edgar Meyer, Matt Haimovitz and the Kronos String Quartets. Recent bass master classes have included Stefano Scodanibbio, Mark Dresser, Larry Wolfe, Richard “Dobbs” Hartshorne and Jeremy Kurtz.
FBPO: Is the music primarily classical or do you get a lot of jazzers or even (ahem) rock & rollers?
PA: We have a jazz major, in addition to our classical major, and there are a few students who double major. There is always some kind of jam session going on and a feeling of “anything can happen” that comes from creative, talented, energetic musicians from all disciplines living, studying and playing together 24 hours a day. We have many jazz graduates with great careers as both players and composers and a number of musicians in up-and-coming bands and with singer/songwriter recordings out.
FBPO: What can a young, wannabe bass player look forward to upon enrolling at Idyllwild?
PA: Music, and lots of it! It’s a unique place in that everybody here is passionate about what they do. They live, eat and breathe their art. The faculty is world class and incredibly devoted. The bassists study with either Chris Hanulik (principal bassist of L.A. Philharmonic) or Jeremy Kurtz (principal bassist of San Diego Symphony). We put a lot of emphasis on close faculty/student interaction and work hard to ensure a successful college application and audition process. Our two bass graduates from last year are both currently at New England Conservatory, studying with Larry Wolfe and Don Palma.
FBPO: The study of music, in and of itself, can be very fulfilling and enriching. In the real world, though, most of us need to be able to make a living. How do the Idyllwild curricula prepare students for gainful employment in the music field?
PA: In addition to a full college-preparatory academic program, we emphasize creativity, flexibility and preparation for a varied career. Our students all take music history and theory courses, but also collaborate very often with artists in other disciplines or study other skills. One example is our Film Scoring program, where students learn the skills required of a film composer and then score the student films, with full orchestra. Also, we often have guest artists who come and talk about the business of music and different options for the changing musical world.
FBPO: What kinds of students attend Idyllwild? Where do they come from? Are they all looking for basically the same thing or are their aspirations all over the board?
PA: Students come from all around the world, with varying income and social backgrounds. We have students from Bulgaria, Russia, Korea, Germany and China, as well as students from many states. They come at different levels, with many different goals and seem to thrive with the close attention of the faculty and being inspired by their fellow student artists.
FBPO: With your fall term fast approaching, where can one get more information about Idyllwild?
PA: The Academy’s website has lots of information about the Academy, as well as applications and scholarship information. Prospective students can also contact me directly. We are still accepting applications for September and have scholarships still available. We are particularly interested in bass players right now, so the time is right!
FBPO: Back to you: In addition to being a dedicated educator, you are also an accomplished bass player and composer. What do you love to do the most?
PA: It’s really impossible for me to say what I love the most, besides “whatever I’m doing at the moment!” I find that each activity – playing, conducting, teaching, composing – allows me to use a different part of my brain and personality. Choosing between them would be like choosing which of my arms I like better! The thing I love most about being a musician is that every experience, musical and otherwise, gets thrown into the mix of what comes out when the music starts happening. It makes it a great challenge but also a great inspiration.
FBPO: Do you still play the electric bass?
PA: Not as much as I used to. I started out playing electric bass, influenced equally by J.S. Bach and Sting. I played jazz and rock for many years on electric. Now, seeing players like Victor Wooten makes me realize I should just stick with what I do and leave the heavy lifting to the big boys.
FBPO: What do you like to do that’s not necessarily musically oriented?
PA: I love reading poetry and fiction, looking at art. I’m a big fan of the Abstract Expressionists. I also like biking and getting lost in the back alleys of small European cities. All this stuff goes into the mix, too!
Visit the Academy’s website at www.idyllwildarts.org.