The Muse in Music - Perspectives from Tim Corpus, Composer and Lake Forest Symphony Administrator
By, Dan Perttu
This time on the Muse in Music, I have the great pleasure of interviewing Tim Corpus, Composer and Executive Director at the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra. Tim is particularly unique because he has perspectives both as a composer and as an orchestra administrator, and I'm excited to share them with you.
Dan: I always love to ask fellow musicians this question, usually to start off with. What music inspires you the most? What repertoire do you love? And, why do you compose?
Tim: Like many people, I love a wide variety of music that changes day-to-day. On any given day I'm listening to concert music, film scores and rock music. My roots in music are really from 90s grunge and early 2000s punk, so I do hold that music in a high place. Bands like The Hotelier, Pinegrove, Brand New and The Wonder Years are some of my current favorites. When it comes to classical, I love orchestral music. Lately I’ve been enjoying the orchestral music of William Walton and Debussy. Have you heard the film score to “Scaramouchie” by Victor Young? It’s absolutely terrific. When it comes to my all-time favorites. I am always in the mood to listen to Music for 18 Musicians, Appalachian Spring, and Mahler 9.
I compose because it is my best creative outlet. I enjoy performing, but I have so much music of my own, that I have to write it down. Some music, especially commissions, are written for others and have audiences in mind. However, a lot of my music is written just for me. It's a fine balance in serving the audience and being a creative outlet.
Dan: As an Executive Director of an orchestra, a composer, and a percussionist, how do the various aspects of your career inform each other? What aspects of your job do you like the most?
Tim: I think that each of those jobs feeds the other. Being a percussionist taught me so much about music. Half of the time you (as a percussionist) are sitting in the back of the orchestra doing nothing. For me, those rehearsals where I was often tacet were an opportunity for me to watch and learn about each of the instrument sections and how they work. This was really my first education in orchestration as a composer. Being a composer introduced me to the business side of our industry. I was applying for grants, contacting other musicians and learning all about project plans and budgets. Eventually that knowledge led me to working in arts administration. Having had time performing and composing, I have a good grasp on the life of the musicians. I have a deep respect and great pride for the musicians in my orchestra. Now that I have worked with orchestras from the administrative side, I have more of an understanding about what conductors and orchestras need from a composer. Performers, administrators and composers are all part of this ecosystem, and each one is a critical part of the puzzle.
As an Executive Director, one of the things I like most is being able to have an impact on my workplace. We work incredibly hard trying to be creative about the orchestra experience to draw in new audiences. There are a lot of great ideas coming from our musicians, the Board of Directors and the staff. Right now, no ideas are off the table. We are trying to build something really different here.
Dan: As a musician and as an artistic administrator, you sometimes work with living composers. Do you have preferences for certain aesthetic orientations or styles in new music? What does this imply for your thoughts on programming?
Tim: As an Executive Director, my job is to oversee the business operations of the orchestra and to help facilitate growth for the organization. As a composer, I am thrilled that the spectrum of music is so varied today and I find that very fascinating. There is a delicate balance for an organization between performing what they think will sell and programming what is artistically important. I have a great music director, Vladimir Kulenovic, who shares the same beliefs I do. We work very hard to program a season that is artistically relevant while being aesthetically pleasing. We oftentimes program what we believe is best for the audience and the orchestra, sometimes that is contemporary music and sometimes it’s not. This season, we are celebrating the bicentennial of Illinois and we felt it necessary to recognize our amazing living Illinois composers, including female composers. We are fortunate enough to have amazing composers like Augusta Read Thomas and Stacy Garrop here in Illinois that we can work with. Not only does this concert feature four living composers, but we have also included the show stopping “La Mer” by Debussy. It's a good balance of new music mixed with an old standard. I would like to see orchestras able to perform more contemporary music; it is where our industry needs to go. The industry as a whole is trying to figure out how to respond to the needs of our audiences and it’s important for audiences to be vocal about what they want.
Dan: That leads well to my next question. In what ways do you think orchestras in general could collaborate with contemporary composers that would enhance the new music scene and its reach to audiences?
Tim: Collaboration is good for both sides, and I’m always happy when it works. We have a composer-in-residence here at the Lake Forest Symphony, and it has been a great way to educate audiences about what composers do and classical music in general. We have also started a chamber music series called the Salon Series that features Symphony musicians performing the music they want to play. These intimate concerts have been incredibly successful and blend a variety of styles from world music to baroque to jazz. This model is something I think other organizations can follow and we plan to expand. In this series we’re able to introduce audiences to a variety of styles. One of the critical pieces of this series is that it is not in a concert hall. We are able to use a variety of spaces for performances that will engage audiences.
In addition to composers-in-residence, we would like to find a way to provide orchestral readings for composers in Illinois. This is a situation where we are all in support of the program, we just need the sponsorship or financial support to do so.
Dan: Well, thanks, Tim, for your interesting perspectives as a composer and executive director. I learned a lot from you! Thanks for talking with me.
Tim: Thank you!