Accidentally on purpose

The accidental music festival brings out the best in Orlando’s new music sceneScreen Shot 2015-09-22 at 7.46.28 PM

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

[editing out all of the festival days and events except for the event I was in to save you some time – catch the whole article at]


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.”

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