Guest Essay published in the Pioneer Press: Lake Forester – Composer’s work runs the gamut

October 1, 2010

By NANCY THORNER Contributor

On Oct. 3 in Reid Chapel on the campus of Lake Forest College, members of the North Suburban Symphony will perform Compose Yourself!  by Lake Forest resident and internationally known composer Jim Stephenson.

Having earned his bachelor of music degree with distinction in trumpet performance at the New England Conservatory, Jim did what he had always planned to do after graduation: play trumpet in a symphony orchestra.  For 17 years Jim and his wife Sally, a professional violinist, were members of the Naples Philharmonic.

Jim’s foray into composing was not an instant transition.  It followed a three-year period of making arrangements of music while playing trumpet with the Naples Philharmonic.  Arrangements were made for Erich Kunzel, Ravinia’s longest “pop” conductor before his death in 2009, Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and for many others.

Receiving encouragement after experiencing success in composing a few of his own works, the seed was planted which led Jim to change from arranging music to composing music, although Jim is still doing some arranging.  The Chicago Symphony has commissioned an arrangement by him for this year’s Christmas concerts.

For the past 10 years every work composed by Jim has been a commissioned work.  He feels extremely fortunate to have his career prosper while the economy has gone the other way. Jim spoke fondly of the “Minnesota Commissioning Club” whose dues are used to commission original compositions.

Three years ago Jim and his wife mutually decided that the time was right to resign from their professional orchestra gigs and move to Lake Forest. Both have family ties in Illinois, so Jim could write music full-time. Jim works at composing at least 60 hours a week.

Recently Jim traveled to Sydney, Australia to attend the premier perform of his trumpet concerto “Rextreme” with upcoming performances scheduled for Brazil, Sweden and London. Jim makes it a point to attend the premier of each new work.

Based on my interview, I had no idea Jim had already composed such an amazing number of musical works for Orchestra, Concert Band, Brass, Strings, Woodwinds, Percussion and Voice, plus arrangements for Orchestra and Band, all in a span of 10 years, nor was it necessary for Jim to try to convince me of his stellar accomplishments.

Jim Stephenson is an unassuming, modest, talented and productive young man is sure of himself.  His excellent website is at www.stephensonmusic.com .

Advance tickets for the Reid Chapel event can be ordered through the Lake Bluff Park District at (847) 234-4150. See you at Reid Chapel at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3, and bring the whole family!

Lake Bluff resident Nancy Thorner is a member of the North Suburban Symphony, which is based at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.

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