On Sunday, April 3rd, the PEI Symphony Orchestra introduced our first Composer-in-Residence with the world premiere of his work Softly at Night the Stars are Shining. Jim O’Leary, an award-winning composer joined the PEISO as Composer-in-Residence in October 2011.
Back in March 2011, past president Heather Doran sat down with Jim O’Leary and discussed the April 2011 concert and his upcoming appointment as PEISO Composer-in-Residence.
Heather Doran: Could you talk a little about your process as a composer? How different is the work you hear when you are working as opposed to the work you hear when an orchestra performs it?
Jim O’Leary: Well, there is a joke that no composer should ever attend the first rehearsal of a new work as it never sounds like you imagined and can be damaging to one’s ego! But, I have been composing for about 15 years and am fairly confident that once the orchestra has rehearsed the work that the performance will match closely what I originally imagined when composing. That said, I always like to try something new in each composition as a way to push myself in new directions and there are always surprises and small changes to be made during rehearsals. A symphony orchestra is a complicated ensemble to write for, only opera offers more logistical challenges to a classical composer, so there is always an incredibly nervous moment just before the conductor’s baton comes down on your new work for the first time. It’s a little bit like riding a roller coaster, you thought it was a great idea when you were in the lineup but just before the roller coaster tips over that first precipice you think “get me out of here!”
Heather Doran: What will a position like composer-in-residence add to your development as a composer?
Jim O’Leary: Working with one ensemble over several years is a fantastic way, through collaboration, to develop musical ideas on a large scale. Conductor Jamie Mark is very supportive and provides me with artistic freedom, something I value. This is very liberating creatively, especially in combination with the tremendously positive attitude the PEISO musicians have shown towards my music when they previously performed myConcerto for Trombone and Orchestra and 3 Studies for Orchestra. I am looking forward to developing my musical language and embarking on new musical adventures in tandem with this dedicated group of musicians.
Heather Doran: Your position with the PEISO obviously involves composing, but what else will you be doing?
Jim O’Leary: I will advise the programming committee on contemporary works suitable for performance by the orchestra with an emphasis on Atlantic Canadian composers. I will also potentially be involved in pre-concert talks, workshops and other like-wise projects. I am looking forward to being part of the vibrant musical community on PEI.
Jim O’Leary’s website: www.jimoleary.net
Originally from Newfoundland, Jim started playing drums in his teens, and studied percussion at the University of Prince Edward Island, graduating with a Bachelor of Music Degree in 1994. During his studies at UPEI, Jim was a percussionist with the PEI Symphony Orchestra. In 2000 he completed a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Music Composition, under the direction of composer Jan Sandström at the School of Music in Piteå, Sweden. Jim resided for many years in Stockholm, Sweden, where he divided his time between composing, performing, and teaching.
His music has been commissioned and performed by, among others: the Umeå Symphony Orchestra, Motion Ensemble, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as well as New Music Concerts, St. F.X. Jazz Nonet, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the L’orchestre Francophonie Canadienne. In 2001, Jim was a finalist in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s composer competition, and received Stockholm County’s Culture Prize 2002.
Jim completed a Masters of Philosophy Degree (in Musical Composition) at the University of Cambridge, England in 2006. He is currently completing a PhD at Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland.
For more information please visit Jim O’Leary’s website: www.jimoleary.net