Founded by violinist Kate Hatmaker and flutist Demarre McGill, Art of Élan has been bringing chamber music to new audiences for a decade now. Three years ago, when the small organization was entering its seventh year, it was featured on Art Pulse TV. See the segment with Kate Hatmaker, and then learn what these music-makers have been up to lately in a Q&A with Kate and Barbarella Fokos, executive producer for both Art Pulse TV and The Artist Odyssey.
BF: It’s been three years since we filmed you, and since then, you’ve had your 10th anniversary! Congratulations. Can you tell us some highlights from the past few years?
KH: Last year (our 10th Anniversary Season) was an incredibly ambitious season for us, both artistically and financially. But in every way it was a huge success, with a fun culminating concert/gala at Qualcomm Hall this past June, where we were able to feature co-founder Demarre McGill and the Myriad Trio in a work we had commissioned specifically for that concert by the young Israeli composer Avner Dorman. It was incredibly humbling to be standing at a 10-year milestone both looking back at all of the fun collaborative projects we’ve been a part of, and looking forward to the community engagement initiatives that I hope will define our next 10 years. Our organization is really becoming a model for how arts organizations can effectively engage the diverse communities they serve, and our brand of presenting exciting classical music that is both accessible and relevant in the 21st century is becoming known even outside of San Diego, thanks to our various commissioning projects and ensemble-in-residence program, which allows us to partner with other artists and arts organizations from around the world.
See this video created for the closing concert at Qualcomm:
BF: You mentioned in the segment that it can be difficult to juggle performing and managing Art of Élan. How do you strike the balance?
KH: Ah yes, the quintessential question. How does anyone strike a balance these days? It is true that I am doing more managing than playing these days (at least for Art of Élan) and I’m finding it fascinating. More than ever, the art world needs strong advocates right now, and who better to address the various boards or funders that determine the future of arts organizations than a musician-turned-administrator? We’ve really been looking at the sustainability question with our organization lately, and are actively putting systems and infrastructure into place that will ensure that the Art of Élan brand continues long after I’m gone — not that I have ANY plans to walk away anytime soon!
BF: What are some of the biggest challenges facing classical music right now?
KH: The classical music world is desperately looking for ways to remain relevant in an era when the average attention span is getting shorter and shorter, thanks to the instant gratification devices (aka “smart” phones) we all spend so much time on these days. But I think we (as a civilization) still crave experiences where we can come together and transcend the minutiae of the day-to-day and social media quippings and that’s also where classical music’s biggest opportunities lie.
BF: Are you finding a younger audience for this style of music? If so, where are they? In which ways do you work to appeal to a younger demographic?
KH: I think the experiential part of things is key here. Millenials in particular aren’t interested in buying more recordings or more things, but are willing to pay for experiences that they can’t find anywhere else. So “how” we present classical music is just as important as “what” we’re presenting. Art of Élan has had a lot of success with presenting a version of “classical” music that’s based on short, thoughtfully-curated programs that feature a lot of new music and artists whose work fits into multiple genres, combined with interesting venues (warehouse spaces, art galleries) and an opportunity to hang with the performers after the show over food and drinks. Our CROSSFIRE concert that we held at the East Village space Luce Loft last April (and which featured the indie folk band The Tree Ring in collaboration with local classical musicians) was sold out weeks in advance and had a 50-person-long wait list, all of people in their 20’s and 30’s. It was wild!
BF: What are you most excited about at this moment?
KH: Well it’s hard to top last season’s lineup of 14 concerts and 7 world premieres of commissioned works! But this year our programming focuses a lot on the concept of empowerment–of women, of youth, of immigrants–and we have a number of bi-national initiatives that will hopefully lead to a more meaningful relationship with our neighbors to the south. The arts scene is so vibrant right now in Tijuana, and I wish there was more of a cross-border dialogue happening in the classical music world! But hopefully we can play a small role in shifting the conversation to be more inclusive. One of the projects we’re most excited about this year involves the commissioning of Tijuana-based composer Andres Martin, who’s writing a work for the New York-based NOW Ensemble (our current ensemble-in-residence), to be premiered both in San Diego (at the San Diego Museum of Art) and in Tijuana this upcoming May. We’re also bringing Branford Marsalis and the Kontras Quartet here in April to premiere a work by the young composer Dan Visconti. It’ll be fun to combine a legendary jazz artist with a classical string quartet–and to be able to showcase our local musicians alongside it all!
BF: You have many prestigious partnerships in town. Can you tell me about a few of them, and how you work together to bring art and music to the community?
KH: We have been so fortunate to be able to develop partnerships with like-minded organizations in this town who believe that collaboration is the key to widening and diversifying audiences. I am also a firm believer in the notion that by combining art forms, one’s own experience of the art is enhanced dramatically: one listens to music differently when there’s a visual element, and one experiences visual art in a different way when music is added to the equation. The San Diego Museum of Art has been our loyal partner in this endeavor for 10 years now, which is a remarkably long time to be in a relationship! But both organizations are still looking at ways to innovate and build on the success our partnership has created, so you can expect to see some different types of “concerts” (like the pop-up events we’re presenting there this year) emerge in the next year or so. We’ve also had a very fruitful relationship with A Reason To Survive (ARTS) in National City, where we’ve created a successful apprenticeship program (called Young Artists in Harmony) in an effort to empower their teenaged students to look at “classical music” and a career in the arts differently. We’ve successfully collaborated with both the San Diego Symphony and Malashock Dance on a number of occasions now, and we’re still developing new relationships with art institutions (like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Diego Art Institute) who are interested in exploring the experiential side of the art they present.
BF: What is your dream project?
KH: Goodness — how many can I list? I think for us it’s a dream to be able to collaborate with world-renowned artists who come to San Diego and work on a cool project alongside our local musicians and artists and then go back to tell the world about how innovative and “happening” our community is. So anytime we can make those types of projects happen it’s a dream come true. And who knows? Maybe we’ll get Yo-Yo Ma out here one of these years!
BF: Where can people go to see an Art of Élan performance?
KH: This year, they can check us out at the San Diego Museum of Art (we have numerous performances there, all listed on our website), the San Diego Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and few other surprise locations yet to be announced–stay tuned!
BF: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
KH: We simply want to encourage people to get out there and experience some great art! San Diego has changed dramatically (for the better) in the last decade — it really feels like we’re becoming a major player in arts innovation these days. Yay for that!