John Duffy and Libby Larsen, with Rob Cross (left) who is the director of the Virginia Arts Festival.
Last month, I got the chance to work with six composers who were fellows at the Duffy Institute. Named after John Duffy, the institute provides composers with the chance to hear their work performed by a group of talented and flexible singers very well selected by Alan Johnson, who serves as music director of the project. Libby Larsen is also there in-residence to provide commentary and continuity along with a variety of guest composers who stop in for a few days during the two week period.
The Duffy Institute is part of the Virginia Arts Festival and takes place at Old Dominion University. With this institute, John, who is well known both as a composer and as the founder of Meet the Composer (now part of New Music USA) has really made an impact on the training and nurturing of music theater creators.
What excited me about the institute was the variety of composers and their styles, from very contemporary to very musical theater. It certainly strikes me that composers from both fields deal with similar problems--plausible and compelling musical storytelling. And there are marketing challenges--how style is perceived by the field and how to navigate a business that tends to define, label and pigeonhole. There were composers who were clearly writing contemporary new music opera, some clearly writing Broadway musicals, but a couple who were exploring territory in between. I was so pleased to see that kind of variety--John told me that the fellows were deliberately chosen to reflect a diversity of styles. As were the guest composers--Charles Wourinen came in after I left.