With John Duffy, everything was possible. He radiated an optimism as forthright and clear as it was free of guile and self-importance. Though the limits of observable reality might be challenged, audacity never distracted from core purpose. His optimism happily went about its business. It lived solidly on terra firma. It got things done.
When I heard that Daniel Felsenfeld, Lainie Fefferman, and Matt Marks were creating this conference, I wanted in even though I didn’t really like conferences–they make me think of barriers and give me the heebie jeebies. But take self-aggrandizement and/or alienation away, and you’re left with conversations and ideas being exchanged between people who simply want to create art and people who want to facilitate the making of that art.
Most concerts of the Festival de Música Contemporánea de la Habana featured Cuban musicians and were heavily populated with music by Cuban composers, but there were visiting performers from Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Korea, Italy, and Spain performing music by composers from their home countries as well as from Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Poland, Taiwan, Turkey, and Venezuela. And, for the first time in its 28-year history, a delegation of musicians and composers from the United States was invited to participate.
My first reaction was: “Yes! Hell yes! Let’s do it and let’s kick ass at it!” My second reaction was: “Matt, there is no goddamned way on Earth you could do something as complicated and high-stakes as starting a brand new music conference.” Enter my good friends Anxiety and Doubt. They set up shop and didn’t leave until after this whole thing was finished.
Most serious instrumentalists don’t like to sing onstage. They may have sung in chorus or solfege class, and may sing in the shower, but the spotlight is something else. Adding to the stress, stage direction may take the singer/instrumentalist away from his or her music stand, requiring that the instrumental parts be memorized.
It began, as so many things do, with a moment of discourse on social media, a Facebook thread that got—as these things tend to do—heated on a topic I cannot recall. I messaged Matt Marks privately—the modern equivalent of repairing to the hotel bar for the sanity of a quiet drink—and said, simply, that we needed an actual space where these things could be talked about