Accidentally on purpose 

The accidental music festival brings out the best in Orlando's new music scene

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On a recent Saturday morning, composer Keith Lay sits down at a table at Urban ReThink and briefly surveys the room before settling into a conversation about his music.

Sitting in an armchair near the window is young composer John Alvarez, who studied with two of the most well-known modern composers in Florida: Stella Sung and Ladislav Kubík. Modern jazz composer and up-and-coming trumpet player Matt McCarthy is talking with guitarist John Krasula, and Kevin Strang, bass clarinetist, is posing for a photo with double bass player Tylor Delgado. Across the room local jazz heavyweight percussionist Michael Welch is standing with Benoit Glazer, conductor for Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba and creator of Timucua, an exquisite performance space in Wadeview Park in which most of the musicians who have gathered here have visited, if not played, at some point in their careers. Lay himself is an accomplished modern classical composer whose work has been performed at Lincoln Center in New York City, and who was hailed by the New York Times as a “composer to watch for” in 2004.

These musicians and composers represent a dense cross-section of Orlando’s contemporary music scene: all the genres are represented by some of the most accomplished players in their fields, from jazz to modern classical to electronic to experimental.

Looking around the room, Lay says, he realized that he knows most everyone here from his 21 years of working in music in the Orlando area, but he’s never seen them all gathered in one room like this before.

They’ve just never come together before for the kind of showcase of local talent and musical innovation that’s about to kick off on Sept. 4 with the Accidental Music Festival.

“There has always been this kind of culture in this town,” he says. “The town has not always been aware of it, itself, but it exists. It exists in pockets. All of the music, all of the elements have been in place.”

Like all happy accidents, this Accidental Music Festival had a pretty humble beginning. Alvarez had recently graduated from FSU, and he started talking with friend and fellow musician Chris Belt about planning a concert that would give modern composers an opportunity to introduce their work.

Belt approached Pat Greene, programming director of Urban ReThink and a member of the volunteer music-presenting group the Civic Minded 5, about using the space to hold a mini-festival of modern composers. Belt booked three dates at Urban ReThink, and Greene says it just so happened that the Civic Minded 5 had booked two local shows of its own during the same week: one by modern flautist/vocal improviser Emily Hay and one by modern electronic composers Jason Kahn and Bryan Eubanks. Serendipitously, the dates booked by Belt dovetailed with the two shows booked by the Civic Minded 5.

“I told [Civic Minded 5 member] Matt Gorney what we had going on here, and he said ‘It’s like an accidental music festival,’” Green says. So they went with it.

Belt got to work developing a full 10 days’ worth of programming, reaching out to musicians from across disciplines to ask if they’d like to participate. He approached the organization of the festival ambitiously – and perhaps a bit impulsively, considering the fact that he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for it all. He applied for a grant and embarked on a Kickstarter campaign with a modest goal of $6,000. Apparently, the city of Orlando’s new music connoisseurs saw value in what he was offering, because he ended up raising nearly $7,000 via Kickstarter and small local fundraisers leading up to the festival.

The various composers, musicians and improvisers involved in the event also see the value in what this festival represents: an opportunity for the city’s best modern musicians – including some who have international reputations – to pull together and wake the city up to the talent that’s long been simmering here.

“There have always been these little pockets of musicians doing different things. This is drawing them together for the first time,” says Civic Minded 5 member Jim Ivy. “If you’re someone who really likes to experience new things that will actually be thoroughly engrossing, then this is something you should definitely check out.”

All of the Accidental Music Festival performances are free and they take place at one of three venues. Most are at Urban ReThink (625 E. Central Blvd.) in Orlando’s Thornton Park neighborhood. The festival’s opening night performance by Emily Hay will take place at Timucua (2000 S. Summerlin Ave.), as will the festival’s main concert on Sunday, Sept. 11, featuring premieres by Keith Lay, John Alvarez, Juan Trigos and Matt McCarthy. The final performance of the festival, a solo guitar recital by Dieter Hennings, will take place at the UCF Rehearsal Hall (4000 Central Florida Blvd.). For more information, visit accidentalmusicfestival.com.

Sunday, Sept. 4

Flautist/pianist/composer Emily Hay, with Brad Dutz and Wayne Peet
Timucua 7:30 p.m.

When asked to describe what Emily Hay, Brad Dutz and Wayne Peet will be presenting at the White House on Sunday in 10 words or less, the Civic Minded 5’s Matt Gorney comes up with the following: “Temporal variations of compositional frames. Or compositions with copious improvisation.”

Give him a few more words to play around with, and he also comes up with: “Or screwing around.”

He doesn’t mean that in a pejorative way. Modern free-form, improv, classical and jazz musicians are, after all, not unlike their more mainstream bretheren: They don’t make music to frustrate or thwart audiences (well, most of them, anyway). They make music because they enjoy it. And sometimes, they enjoy just screwing around to see what they can come up with.

Hay is a West Coast musician whose work combines both modern classical technique and improvisation – at times her pieces can seem melodic and comfortable, but they can also be a bit foreign, even jarring.

“There’s a lot of textural improvisation in her live shows,” Gorney says. “It isn’t necessarily harmonic or chordal improvisation, as much as feel variations. Timbral. … It’s tough to call it jazz or classical,” Gorney says, “but she’s whisked these elements together with electronics. It’s a good opening salvo/litmus test for the festival. If you’re open to what she’s presenting, you’ll be able to audition everything else.”

Hay will be playing with jazz pianist/keyboardist Wayne Peet and percussionist Brad Dutz, who has worked in the studio with Willie Nelson, Rickie Lee Jones and Alanis Morisette, among others.

“I tell people that she’s a virtuoso of her own design,” Belt says when asked to describe Hay’s work. “There really aren’t any references for what she does. She mixes vocal performances and extended techniques on the flute. ... It will probably be unlike anything most people have heard before.”

So should the audience be prepared more for melody or for mindfuck? “I think both are in store,” Gorney says.

Monday, Sept. 5

Open rehearsal of composer John Alvarez's "In the Beginning"
Urban ReThink 7 p.m.

John Alvarez met Chris Belt while both were students at the University of Central Florida, studying classical guitar with professor Eladio Scharrón. During the festival, Belt will conduct a piece Alvarez wrote, called “In the Beginning,” which combines electronic music and jazz big band elements. Alvarez says that unlike a lot of big-band ensemble pieces, “In the Beginning” is not improvised. It’s composed and each of the parts is written, and the electronic portions are intended to supplement what the musicians are playing. When asked to describe the theory behind his piece, he says it’s programmatic, based loosely on a story about the origin of the universe.

“Astrophysicists believe that the universe began from a singularity – an infinitely dense, hot point that’s usually at the center of a black hole,” he says. “I had this idea where I kind of made up this story in my head of the singularity. I kind of pictured it growing in size and coming back down to its original form because gravity is just so strong. It goes through what I call pulsations. That’s the first movement, a singularity, a process of trying to get bigger, and then eventually exploding into the Big Bang. It then goes into the second movement, and that’s when the big band comes in. The last movement is the expansion, which is kind of like the current state of the universe, where we’re still expanding but at a slow rate.

“The first movement is all electronics, the second movement is the big band … I love the sound of a big band, but I never heard it outside the context of jazz. It’s got this big, booming sound, and I just wanted to use that in a different setting. So that’s what I did.”

During this rehearsal of the piece, the audience can get a feel for what goes into creating and perfecting a modern composition. The formal debut of “In the Beginning” will take place at Timucua on Sept. 11.

Tuesday, Sept. 6

Jason Kahn and Bryan Eubanks
Urban ReThink 8 p.m.

Jason Kahn is a composer/sound installationist/electronic musician living in Zurich, Switzerland. His earliest musical inspiration was experimental as well: punk rock, which was an experimental and pioneering form of music in its time.

Kahn, who began his musical career as a drummer in a punk band called the Leaving Trains, told Paris Transatlantic magazine in 2004 that the first time he heard the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” he was driving along Mulholland Drive in the 1970s, and “I was so thunderstruck that I had to pull over and park the car.”

“Maybe it wasn’t the music as much as the energy that attracted me,” he said, “and the whole idea behind the punk scene at that time which was that anyone could make music. You didn’t have to have two semi-trailer trucks, a dozen roadies, a private jet, a multi-million dollar record deal or a stadium to play in. So about 1978 I started going to Los Angeles punk clubs like the Whiskey, the Starwood and the Hong Kong Cafe. The scene was really vibrant and creative – there was everything going on from the Screamers to the Germs. It was a real revelation to me, seeing all these people on stage who looked just like me! The barrier between performer and audience completely disappeared.”

Eventually Kahn began incorporating live electronics into his music, and today he uses all manner of instruments – a laptop, analogue synthesizers, ambient sound, radio transmitters – to create improvised soundscapes and environments full of noise, rhythm, static and feedback.

He’ll be playing with Bryan Eubanks, who began his musical career playing the saxophone. Today he specializes in electronic music and creates instruments of his own design that incorporate open circuits, radio transmission, feedback and other electronics. “It is electronic, but it’s not the typical electronic music,” says the Civic Minded 5’s Ivy. “You’re not going to hear sounds that you’ve heard before on dance records. … This will take you on a journey that you haven’t been on before.”

Belt says that Kahn and Eubanks will improvise their entire set on analogue synthesizers that they’ve built themselves and the performance can be “very long and free form.”

“What I like about Jason Kahn’s music is that he has a really strong grasp of musical form. So there will be times where he’s just kind of noodling around with a sound machine, but he creates this drama without any of the standard techniques of classical music,” Belt says. “Just one person with a strange little box that he makes sounds with.”

It will be minimal, says Ivy, but not redundant.

“It’s minimal in content but not in what you get out of it,” he says. “There’s nothing repetitive about what they do. It kind of goes on, and it’s always forward moving, and it’s evolving and it never repeats itself.”

Wednesday, Sept. 7

Open rehearsal of Juan Trigos’ "Ricercare VI"
Timucua 7:30 p.m.

Juan Trigos is an internationally renowned Mexican contemporary composer, conductor of the Eastman School of Music’s Broadband Ensemble and the former conductor and musical director of the National Chamber Orchestra of Mexico City. Belt says he learned that Trigos lives in the Orlando area, so he asked a friend to approach him and see if he would be interested in having one of his concertos performed. Trigos was game, and he’s now part of not one, but three evenings of performance during this festival.

“Ricercare VI” is a major work for classical guitar and chamber orchestra, and Trigos himself will be on hand to conduct it for the festival. “The piece has never been played in Florida, and Juan Trigos is an excellent conductor and composer with an international reputation,” Belt says. “He’s known all over the world, and this is a chance to see somebody at the highest level in his field working with some of the best musicians in Orlando, the best orchestral players in Orlando. It’s a chance to hear his approach to music, to hear him talk about music and evoke, on a piece that he wrote, sounds and emotions from the players.”

Thursday, Sept. 8

"Guitar music since 1950," by Dr. Eladio Scharron
Urban ReThink
5:30 p.m.
Chamber music concert
Urban ReThink
7 p.m.

Dr. Eladio Scharrón is, indirectly, responsible for the Accidental Music Festival. An associate professor of music at University of Central Florida, Scharrón taught both Belt and Alvarez and helped instill in them an appreciation for modern classical composition. When asked how he feels about the fact that two of his students were instrumental in pulling this festival together, he says “It fills my heart with great joy.”

Scharrón’s presentation will be informal, Belt says, and it will focus on Spanish and French composers that any guitar lover should get to know. “He’ll present recordings and video and talk informally, answer questions, talk about master works of classical music for the guitar that probably most people have never heard of before,” Belt says. The talk will be followed by the world premier of a multiple percussion instrumental piece by Thad Anderson, a visiting instructor and member of the percussion faculty at UCF. “He’ll be premiering his new piece, and I’ll be premiering a new trio for violin, guitar and piano,” Belt says. “It’s really colorful and ethereal, very peaceful. I’m really excited about it. It’s the only guitar that I’ll be playing in the festival.”

Friday, Sept. 9

Brazilian popular music, a Skype presentation
Urban ReThink 6:30 p.m.

Jazz improvisation with Michael Welch, Daniel Jordan, Jim Ivy, Jill Burton, Kris Gruda and more
Urban ReThink 8 p.m.

Belt says that as the music festival came together, he felt there were a few pieces missing. First, he thought, a presentation on musical anthropology would be worth including. “So I reached out to a friend of mine, Seana Monley, she’s an anthropologist at UNC Chapel Hill,” Belt says. “Her work is in the social functions of favelas in Rio de Janeiro.” Monley’s presentation, which will be broadcast at Urban Rethink via Skype, will focus on Brazilian funk.

He says he also felt like the program didn’t represent the avant-garde jazz world, which has a strong representation in Orlando. So he talked with some local players, including Jim Ivy, Jill Burton and Kris Gruda, and assembled an evening that will showcase pretty much the best of what the area has to offer. Belt says it can be tough to get a good crowd for a classical show on a Friday night, so the organizers decided it would be a good night to schedule this higher-energy improvisational showcase instead.

“There will be performances of free jazz, free improvisation and avant garde vocal music,” Belt says. “The headliners that night are Michael Welch and Danny Jordan. They’re two of the veteran jazz musicians in Orlando, two of the area’s premier players and they’re presented in an interesting combination: reeds [Jordan] and percussion [Welch].”

“Jordan is an outstanding saxophone and flute player,” adds Ivy, who is also playing on this bill. “And Michael Welch has created this quadrogrip technique, where he actually holds two sticks in each hand, but neither of the sticks are playing the same instruments. So it’s like he’s hitting four different things at a time.”

Ivy will be playing a duet on saxopone with Oviedo classical guitarist Ron Sword, and vocalist Jill Burton and guitar/vocalist/multiinstrumentalist Kris Gruda – both of whom Ivy calls “outstanding improvisers” – will perform as well. “Jill is a master vocal improviser,” Ivy says. “She was in and around the downtown New York scene in the early 1980s, when John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz were just starting out and making a name for themselves.”

Saturday, Sept. 10

Opera-film screening of "De Cachetito Raspado" and discussion with Juan Trigos
Urban ReThink 7 p.m.

“Trigos will hold a presentation on the opera ‘De Cachetito Raspado,’ which is one of his really well-known operas,” Belt says. “The translation of the title is ‘cheek to stubbled cheek.’ He’s going to talk about his compositional practices and the genre he writes in.”

Trigos’ father (also named Juan Trigos) is a prominent poet and author who created a literary genre called hemoficcion, which explores the darkest tendencies of the human psyche. Trigos the composer writes his operas in the style his father pioneered. Trigos will discuss his work, the hemoficcion genre and he’ll also host a screening of the opera.

Sunday, Sept. 11

Student composers workshop
Urban ReThink 3 p.m.

Middle and high school students can attend a workshop with guest composers. Applicants must email a brief statement about their musical background or a recording of their original work (any style) to orlandoclassical@gmail.com. Space is limited and participants will be chosen based on the quality of the work submitted.

Sunday, Sept. 11

Big band and orchestra concerts: "Suite for Trumpet, Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello," by Keith Lay
"Ricercare VI," for guitar and chamber orchestra, by Juan Trigos
"The Hang," for 11 improvisers, by Matt McCarthy "In the Beginning," for big band with electronics, by John Alvarez
Timucua 7 p.m.

This program of new pieces by a quartet of composers is what Belt calls “the main, big concert of the whole festival.” All of the pieces scheduled for this evening are being debuted for the first time.

“It’s the premier of a piece by [local modern classical composer] Keith Lay, the premier of ‘In the Beginning’ by John Alvarez, and the piece by Trigos. Also on that program is the premier of a piece called ‘The Hang’ by Matt McCarthy, one of the young guns on the Orlando jazz scene,” Belt Says. “He’s one of the premier young trumpet players, if not the young trumpet player in Orlando.”

For those who might think that modern composition feels chilly or unfamiliar, Lay’s piece may be the antidote: His suite has a warm, personal backstory that makes it immediately human and approachable. He wrote it for Benoit Glazer and his family, who have devoted an immeasurable amount of their time and effort to supporting the local music community. All of the members of the family – both parents and two teenagers – are musicians, and Glazer built the gorgeous three-story Timucua performance space inside his family’s home. He opens the doors to the public monthly with a series of free shows that support and sustain all manner of classical, avant garde and jazz musicians, some local, others internationally renowned. Music is, for the whole Glazer family not just a distraction but a lifestyle. Before each performance at Timucua, the family performs a piece inspired by the musicians scheduled to take the stage that evening.

“I love the Glazer family, and everything they stand for,” Lay says. “Just think of Benoit Glazer … he believes in community, and he believes in family, and those things are at the center of his life.”

The piece Lay composed for them is set up in five movements: meditation, fun, lesson on the circle, family and acuity. The most challenging part of the piece may well be the family movement, in which the musicians must communicate with one another and problem solve according to a set of written instructions set before them. “The family members must negotiate and respond to each other throughout,” a description of the piece on Lay’s website explains. “The piece will expose the functioning (or dysfunctioning) of their collaborative relationships and balances choice, limitation and freedom of expression.”

Monday, Sept. 12

Global Peace Film Festival screening.
Urban ReThink 7 p.m.

Film to be announced.

Tuesday, Sept. 13

Dieter Hennings performs a solo guitar recital at University of Central Florida Presented by The Guitar Series at UCF
UCF Rehearsal Hall, 4000 Central Florida Blvd. 8 p.m.

“Classical guitar is appealing because it’s not just an orchestral instrument,” Belt says. People who aren’t familiar with classical music can attend a classical guitar performance and have a frame of reference from which to relate to it. As a result, Belt says, it can be “a bridge” for people to cross over from mainstream music to modern and classical composition.

It’s only fitting, then, that the Accidental Music Festival will close with a guitar recital. The Guitar Series at UCF will host Dieter Hennings, a guitar professor from the University of Kentucky at Lexington, who will perform contemporary classical guitar pieces, including Juan Trigos’ “Partita” for solo guitar.

“The guitar is the instrument of the 20th century, the most popular instrument in the world,” Belt says.

Belt, Hennings and the other players in this festival are taking it – as well as the other instruments they specialize in – well into the 21st. n

 

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