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Season opener features concerto by composer Jim O’Leary

by Anne Bergstrom

Jim O'Leary

Composer Jim O’Leary studied percussion at UPEI, and became interested in orchestral music when playing in the PEI Symphony Orchestra. He had written his first piece while still in high school in Newfoundland. He liked the trombone and wrote something for Dale Sorensen to try. Dale introduced him to a trombone concerto by Jan Sandstrom known as the Motorbike Concerto. Jim went to Sweden to visit a friend, and discovered that Jan Sandstrom taught composition at the School of Music in Pitea, Sweden, where Jim had already applied to study for a year.

Jim got his Master’s degree in composition there with Sandstrom, and has stayed in Sweden for the last five years, teaching music in two schools, playing drums in a blues band, and composing. He has received Stockholm County’s Culture Prize, and in 2001 he placed second in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s composer competition. His works have also been performed by Sweden’s Umea Symphony, Toronto’s New Music Concerts, the Motion Ensemble (New Brunswick), and the Vancouver Symphony. Jim’s compositions are for orchestra, chamber music, vocal & choral, electro-acoustic, theatre and film.

His newest piece is a trombone concerto commissioned by the PEI Symphony and written for Dale Sorensen, which will receive its première at the opening concert of the Symphony season on October 23 at 2:30 pm.

The Buzz recently spoke with Jim from Stockholm. We asked him how he finds time for composing with his other activities demanding his time. He said he is taking this year off from teaching, and going to England for a Master of Philosophy program in composition at Cambridge University.

When asked if he writes mostly on commission, the answer was a definite yes. He wants to hear his works performed and doesn’t write “for the sake of writing” or “for free.” He says one needs to have contacts, and that in Canada there isn’t much funding for new music. Jim speaks fluent Swedish and has dual citizenship, but looks forward to returning to live in Atlantic Canada in the not-too-distant future.

Dale Sorensen is a member of the trombone section of the PEISO, and has played solo with them once before. As winner of the Suzanne Brenton Award, he performed the Lars Erik Larsen Concertino in 1989. He has also performed premières of 2 solo works with the Windsor (ON) Symphony. Dale commutes to Halifax where he plays with Symphony Nova Scotia and teaches at Dalhousie, as well as teaching trombone here at UPEI.

He told us that Jim O’Leary’s concerto explores a wide variety of effects for the trombone, including three different mutes. Some of the other techniques are glissando (sliding, which works well on a trombone), extreme low notes, and different types of tonguing. There will also be multiphonics, the sounding of more than one pitch at a time, created when the player sings and plays at the same time.

Sorensen and O’Leary will be visiting some Island high schools the week before the concert to talk about the work and do a demonstration. Jim O’Leary will give a public lecture about composing, with demonstrations of the new concerto from Sorensen.


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