Peter Askim, the Artistic Director of the Next Festival of Emerging Artists and the conductor of the Raleigh Civic Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, as well as Director of Orchestral Activities at North Carolina State University, graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about the Next Festival.
Hi Peter! Thank you so much for joining me for this interview about The Next Festival of Emerging Artists particularly prior to your LPR X: NEXT Festival of Emerging Artists: New Music for Strings performance at Le Poisson Rouge on June 3rd, 2018. Going into your sixth season is such an achievement! Congrats! An immersive residency for young (20-30 years old) professional string players, like yours, is such a necessary step for creative professionals. I know that more and more musicians are needing to get focused training on musical exploration, entrepreneurial thinking, and contemporary performance practice in a residency atmosphere. So, I can’t wait to ask you all about it. Plus, you have the inimitable Tony Arnold joining you this summer. What a treat!
So, let’s get to the questions!
Can you give us the “elevator pitch” for The Next Festival? How has your description of it changed over the years?
PA – It’s a complex, but incredibly exciting time to be a young artist. Despite the supposed impending “death of classical music,” there are amazing opportunities for performers and composers that never existed before. The mission of The Next Festival is to prepare and support young artists to take advantage of these new possibilities. It’s structured very consciously to provide a comprehensive set of experiences, for each of the diverse realms that constitute success in today’s changing musical landscape.
Artistic excellence is the jumping off point. Festival participants receive highly individualized coaching on technical and musical issues in both solo and chamber settings. They collaborate with Guest Artists at the top of the contemporary music field, performing alongside them in concerts at prominent venues, often in collaboration with the composers themselves.
In addition to performing with participants, our Guest Artists serve as examples of non-traditional careers in the arts, inspiring them to think outside the box. From very early on, we have had a Resident Entrepreneurial Artist, Jessica Meyer, to mentor students on career strategies. Our participants develop relationships with guest artists, and amongst their peers, that continue long after the festival is done.
Embedded deep in the DNA of the festival is the idea that deserving artists should be able to attend, regardless of financial circumstances. Students pay only what they can, and the remainder of the costs are supported by our generous donors.
Be nice: # 1 Festival Rule; No Jerks! Life is short, the music world is small, and no one likes to work with nasty people!
You have some major “heavy hitters” on your faculty! What do you hope the resident artists will take away from each one or overall in a rapidly changing arts and societal landscape?
PA – Each of our faculty and guest artists bring different perspectives on artistry and career to the table. Having access to a broad range of possibilities in each realm is crucial to a developing professional – our artists can combine concepts from diverse viewpoints in a framework that is uniquely resonant to each of them. I think this is crucial in constructing their own conception of who they are as an artist, professional and – most of all – human being. In addition to being inspired, knowing and working with artists of the highest caliber, relationships continue after the festival, by working together in the professional world.
When you think about training entrepreneurial musicians, what does the word “entrepreneurial” mean to you? How do you think people get arts entrepreneurship wrong?
PA – “Entrepreneurial” is an overused term, but maybe the only one we have to describe the constellation of traits that it takes to envision and create a career these days. Entrepreneurship as it is often portrayed has always felt clinical to me. Thinking about “networking” as a means to an end, viewing “career” as an abstract concept and getting overly bogged down by business/marketing/social media seems to me to miss the good stuff about being an artist. For me personally, I buckle down and do the nitty gritty of business (and there is a lot of it!) because it gives me the chance to do what I love for those two hours I’m on stage.
Entrepreneurship means always thinking about new ways to create opportunity out of scarcity and imagining new ways to create art that people haven’t thought of before. It’s about working with people you love and respect (what “networking” really means to me) and doing the things that you were put on the planet to do. Maybe most of all, entrepreneurship means an incredible stubbornness to press ahead despite setbacks. In my experience, most things don’t pan out, but if you throw enough things at the wall for long enough (that they are excellent is a given), enough things will take hold. Careers grow like crystals, expanding outward from a few seeds.
Projects that inspire you to the core of your being will also captivate people. Inspiration is contagious, and there is nothing more compelling than someone who believes in what they do – wholly. If a project is truly excellent and it comes from the right place, I firmly believe that it will find its way into reality, one way or another.
Do something great, believe in it, work with people who inspire you, talk about it with passion to as many people as will listen, and have the blessing of unrelenting stubbornness to see it through – that’s what it boils down to, in my experience.
You’ve commissioned a new orchestral version of composer Brett Dean’s “And Once I Played Ophelia”, which will feature Ms. Arnold, for the festival. I would bet that your Next Fest fellows have some experience with commissioning already. What would you want your resident fellows to learn or know about the commissioning process beyond their current familiarity?
PA – Working closely with composers is one of the greatest gifts we have as performers. Seizing the chance to bring something new into the world and collaborating with the person who made it – what an amazing opportunity. Commissioning your peers and developing lifelong relationships with them – this is what makes everything worthwhile.
That being said, composers are always the last ones to get paid. If you think performers are paid badly, think about composers! They have to pay the bills, too. You can’t eat “experience” and “exposure.”
If we want composers to keep doing what they do, we have to support them every way we can – not only advocating tirelessly for their music, but looking under every rock to find the funds to keep them working. When I commission a composer, I give them my word to do the absolute best I can for them in terms of a fee. It may often not be what they deserve (do any of us really get what we deserve?), but they know that my word is good, and that I respect them deeply enough to scramble incredibly hard on their behalf.
Your background is full of experiences inside and outside of new music hubs (or the top three metropolitan areas.) Because the festival is held in New York City and on the grounds of Music Mountain is this a subject that comes up during the festival? How do you encourage resident fellows to contribute to their musical communities across the country?
PA – There is a a great benefit to spending time and doing projects in cultural centers like New York. It’s inspiring to be amidst a critical mass of people doing great things all the time. I’m incredibly inspired by being there, and I work there as often as I can.
However, those places are crowded and can be tough – everyone is trying to get their own slice of a limited pie. I have been amazed by the possibilities that happen in communities which are more off the beaten path. There is a great thirst for great things in places which are not New York or similar places. Audiences are much hungrier, there is more possibility of doing your own thing and finding your own community of artists and audiences. It’s usually cheaper – not to be overlooked. And, truth be told, the reception can be more enthusiastic and satisfying. Being appreciated is definitely underrated!
Generous scholarships enable students to attend The Next Festival regardless of financial circumstances. Why is this so important to the work you’re doing? Have you known that you wanted the festival to be tuition-free from the beginning?
PA – From the very first conception of the festival, my commitment to young artists has included generous financial support. Young artists need a place, both physically and mentally, where they can do the work they need to do, without constantly worrying about money. This is a sacred covenant for me.
I often call The Next Festival the “anti-festival.” Although the huge (and expensive!) music festivals are great, I question the morality of putting students in debt to go to a festival. From the beginning, the festival has been pay-what-you can. However, it is on purpose not “tuition free.”
Part of being an artist today is knowing that everything costs money and nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay for it. I’m 100% thrilled to cover someone’s costs if they truly cannot afford it, but I also believe there’s no place in today’s world for entitlement. Everyone does what they can to be at the festival. If I’m able to do more for someone than they can do for themselves at this point in their career, nothing makes me happier.
The tuition model is based on honesty, mutual respect and the knowledge that every resident artist’s presence at the festival is supported by someone’s hard work. I was fortunate to have very generous teachers and great opportunities, and I want to “pay it forward,” for lack of a better term. Everyone at the festival chips in to the best of their ability. Everyone who comes is treated with respect and supported in as many ways as possible. It’s a moral principle for me as much as a financial model.
Active as a composer, conductor and bassist, Peter Askim is the Artistic Director of the Next Festival of Emerging Artists and the conductor of the Raleigh Civic Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, as well as Director of Orchestral Activities at North Carolina State University. He was previously Music Director and Composer-in-Residence of the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra. He has also been a member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and served on the faculty of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he directed the Contemporary Music Ensemble and taught theory and composition.