Unlike the serendipitous circumstances of its noteworthy debut last year, the Accidental Music Festival returns in 2012 as something much more deliberate. Though the festival is rooted in modern classical music and continues to usher high-level, erudite music out of its cloisters, into the bright light of broader relevance, and to a wider audience, this year the progressive-minded event is all about the now, emphasizing new music by living composers across a wider spectrum of genres.
"I do think listening to contemporary music is an important part of the possibilities of a person's life," says founder and music educator Christopher Belt. "I think engaging with music is one of the most sacred and overwhelming and intellectually and emotionally stimulating things that a person can do."
Besides greater advance funding through grants and sponsorships (particularly from the Bryce L. West Foundation) and ticketing through Red Chair Project (redchairproject.com), the biggest difference this year is the programming itself. For instance, the sprawling, 10-day debut shrinks to a compact four-day affair. But what it relinquishes in duration, it compensates for in marquee talent with major headliners like the entire professional symphonic orchestra of the University of Guanajuato (Mexico) and avant-garde rockers Deerhoof.
"We're bringing a huge ensemble, where last year we didn't have anything bigger than a 15-piece chamber ensemble," says Belt. "This year we're bringing 90 people from Mexico, and a trio of soloists from Germany will play with them so it's much more international. And then, trying to bring in a big headlining act in Deerhoof."
Belt says the intriguing move to add an indie-rock night is to expand the potential audience, and that more future cross-pollination opportunities are definitely possible. Besides, he says, "Fun, I think, is an important part of a festival, so it can't be all like, 'We're going to present all masterworks – it's going to be all fire and brimstone or all existential crisis.' … You have to have some fun. And I think what Deerhoof does is amazing because if you listen to the complexity within a couple of measures of their music and how drastic the texture and harmonies change in that music, you recognize that there's a really sophisticated musical mind at work that's having fun."
Additionally, a somewhat secretive Corridor Project production will be unveiled to pre-game the Deerhoof bill (Nov. 9), one that's had local art scene insiders abuzz for weeks now. The project is a collaborative expansion of the Flaming Lips-esque parking lot experiment that debuted September at the Tiny Waves anniversary party (This Little Underground, Oct. 10). Transforming part of the Plaza Live's parking lot into a temporary stage set, this performance will feature music composed by Steve Head and the Tiny Waves collective, interpretative performance by Voci Dance and, probably, audience participation. Beginning at 7 p.m. and lasting less than 10 minutes, this special event is what Belt is calling a "not-to-be-missed, never-to-be-repeated spectacle."
Of the guiding principles of his festival programming, he says, "The whole point of the festival is to try and present new music, living composers, challenging music that doesn't normally get programmed, small ensembles – things that are going to reach a generally younger classical music audience, a newer classical music audience, and also that kind of crosses over and reaches people that are into free improvisation and avant-garde music, just things that don't have a huge market but might have some overlap between audiences."
Like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, both of which are opening smaller venues to appeal to new audiences, the Accidental Music Festival is targeting a younger crowd rather than the established previous year's audience. "They want to target a smaller group for each of those performances, present new music that's engaging," he says. "And that's what Orlando needs. And that's the niche that I'm seeking to fill. The other organizations that are here do amazing things that I can't possibly do.
But what I can do is try to present something like this and hopefully grow it over the next five years. And I think the educational stuff is a really important component of that because, if you take a long-term view, we should be teaching high-school kids about free improvisation as much as we teach them about orchestral literature or band literature. It's just as important."
For the sake of the city's music scene, Belt says he hopes to continue growing his ambitious upstart festival. "Last year, it was the toe in the water," he says. "This year, it's a cannonball, I'm hoping. I know that there's a role to be filled, and I think that's in presenting challenging music, uncompromising music of high artistic quality. It doesn't mean that it's out of people's reach, it just means that it might be intellectual, it might be dark or more powerful music. … I want to foster opportunities for local musicians and touring musicians to have a place that they can come and play and know that there is an audience of people that are interested in that experience of hearing something new, hearing something for the first time, hearing something that they might not like but wanting to hear something because it's fun."
It bodes well for the festival's future that Belt's crusade is as common-sense as it is noble. "You have to build the audience, you have to engage people where they are," he says. "And don't assume that people aren't going to get it."
A Happy Accident: Festival Events and Info
Thursday, Nov. 8
Hippocrene Saxophone Quartet Performing the music of Stella Sung, David Asher Brown, Morton Subotnick, Lansing McLoskey. 7:30 p.m., Urban Rethink, 625 E. Central Blvd., 407-704-6895, $7
Friday, Nov. 9
Deerhoof with Levek and Telethon. 7 p.m., Plaza Live Theater, 425 N. Bumby Ave., 407-228-1220, $15
Saturday, Nov. 10
Symphonic Orchestra of Guanajuato Performing Sinfonieta by Pablo Moncayo, Symphony No. 2 by Carlos Chávez, Homenaje a Cervantes by Blas Galindo, Redes by Silvestre Revueltas, and Triple Concerto No. 2 by Juan Trigos featuring German trio Luxa 21. 3 p.m., Edgewater High School, 3100 Edgewater Ave., 407-835-4900, $10
Central Florida Composers Forum presents new works for electronics by Orlando composers. 5:30 p.m, Timucua, 200 S. Summerlin Ave., 407-595-2713, free ($7 to reserve a seat)
Michelle Schumann An all John Cage piano recital celebrating the 100th anniversary of Cage's birth. 7:30 p.m., Timucua, 200 S. Summerlin Ave., 407-595-2713, free ($7 to reserve a seat)
Sunday, Nov. 11
Eladio Scharrón and Carrie Wiesinger perform Latin American works for flute and guitar, including Cronicas Del Descubrimiento by Roberto Sierra, Fantasia by Inocente Carreño, and Histoire du Tango by Astor Piazzolla. 3 p.m., Timucua, 200 S. Summerlin Ave., 407-595-2713, free ($7 to reserve a seat)
With a $70 festival pass, attendees get into all shows and receive guaranteed seating at each Timucua event, plus a complimentary bottle of wine. For details, artist profiles, information on additional events in Tampa and Sanford, or to buy tickets, visit accidentalmusicfestival.com.