5 Questions to Patrick Castillo (American Composers Forum)

Brooklyn-based composer Patrick Castillo is the vice-chair of the board of directors for the American Composers Forum, which has an open call for scores from composers to participate in an artist delegation to the 28th Havana Contemporary Music Festival in November 2015. Castillo attended the Havana festival last year, making him the ideal person to tell us more. 

What are the details around this current ACF call for scores?

The American Composers Forum is sending an artist delegation to Havana, November 15-21, 2015, to participate in the Festival de Música Contemporánea de La Habana (Havana Contemporary Music Festival). The delegation will include up to ten composers, selected through this national call for scores, and Third Sound, a newly formed, New York City-based Pierrot quintet that I’m tremendously excited about. They’re a supergroup of exceptional chamber musicians: flutist Sooyun Kim, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, violinist Karen Kim, cellist Michael Nicolas, and pianist Orion Weiss.

We’re accepting submissions scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, or any subset thereof, with a maximum length of ten minutes. The number of composers we are able to accept will depend in part on the length, rehearsal requirements, etc. of the selected scores. Submissions are due by May 31, 2015. Full guidelines are available here.

This call is one of the most exciting composer opportunities I’ve ever come across.  Not only will the selected works be performed in Havana, but the selected composers will also get to travel to Cuba, all expenses paid. The artist delegation’s residency at the Festival will include performances of the selected scores at the Festival by Third Sound, as well as attendance at all other Festival events and interaction with other featured composers and performers, from Cuba and elsewhere. Composers joining the artist delegation can also look forward to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Havana and immerse themselves in the city’s incredible arts and cultural landscape.

How did the ACF connection to the Havana festival come about?

The seeds for this project were planted last November, when the Festival presented a program of music by American composers in partnership with ACF. I had two pieces on the program and seized the opportunity to visit Havana, just a few weeks before President Obama announced the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. None of the other American composers were able to make the trip, leaving me with the thrilling and terrifying prospect of traveling to la isla solo.

There’s not enough space here for me to adequately describe the experience of my week in Cuba. The Festival itself (celebrating its twenty-seventh season!) was an incredible discovery—I had no idea Havana had such a robust contemporary music tradition—and introduced me to dozens of composers whose music I had never heard.

Beyond the Festival, Havana is one of the most enchanting and utterly mystifying places I’ve ever visited. The city is incredibly beautiful, and the social and cultural fabric is endlessly fascinating. Meeting the Cuban people, whose experiences of the last half-century are well documented, and whose perspectives are so wholly different from anything I know—at the risk of hyperbole, I truly felt I was staring the indomitability of the human spirit in the face at every moment. And there’s art and music everywhere, literally spilling into the streets.

Havana street scene (photo: Patrick Castillo)

Havana street scene (photo: Patrick Castillo)

How does this nascent engagement with the Cuban contemporary music  community fit into the ACF mission?

ACF exists to serve and advocate for composers and to engage communities in the creation of new music. Building on the program presented in Havana last fall, the Festival and ACF have expressed mutual interest in developing an ongoing relationship, which will resonate profoundly with ACF’s mission. The relationship with the Festival will include residencies for American composers and performances of their work in Havana—introducing their work to what I found to be a fiercely passionate audience for new music—and facilitate collaborations between American composers and performers and their Cuban counterparts.

ACF is also organizing a companion trip to Cuba; what does that entail?

Alongside the artist delegation, ACF is organizing a people-to-people cultural visit to Havana. The chance to travel to Cuba—and particularly right now—is such a special opportunity, we imagine that having a group of intrepid travelers along for the ride will enrich the experience for everyone involved. And, as a practical matter, the patron tour also helps make the artist delegation’s residency possible. Patrons will travel to Cuba with the artist delegation and, in addition to attending all Festival events, will enjoy a guided exploration of the arts and culture of Havana. Tempted explorers can learn more here.

Havana architecture (photo: Patrick Castillo)

Havana architecture (photo: Patrick Castillo)

What can you tell us about your own ongoing composition work?

Thanks for asking! In fact, one of my next projects was borne of a connection I made in Havana last November. One of the treats of the Festival was getting to hear a slew of killer guitarists from all over Latin America. One of the musicians I got to know is the Colombian guitarist Ricardo Cuadros. After the Festival, Ricardo asked me for a new piece for guitar and electronics, which he’ll tour in South America in the fall.

In addition to that, I’m putting the finishing touches on an album of vocal chamber music, which will be released by Innova Recordings later this year.

Learn more:

Call for scores: American Composers Forum Artist Delegation to Cuba: November 15-21, 2015

American Composers Forum Patrons Cultural Tour to Cuba: November 15-21, 2015