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Art of Élan


American Ensemble


“Genres are so 20th-century!” jokes violinist Kathryn Hatmaker, cofounder of Art of Élan. The San Diego-based presenting organization aims to bring new audiences to classical chamber music—and in the process, redefine conceptions of what the label “classical music” really means. With the express purpose of attracting audiences who would typically avoid standard chamber music concerts, Art of Élan presents one-hour concerts in nontraditional settings like museum spaces and art galleries, and seeks to remove classical music’s intimidation factor. “We want to break down this expectation that classical music only means Mozart,” Hatmaker says, “or that it’s something that demands you wear a suit and go to a concert hall.”

Performed without intermission, an Art of Élan concert will usually start at 7 PM, ending at 8—and letting the audience get on with the rest of their evening. “Being concise and compact about things can be so much more effective,” Hatmaker says. “You can go grab a glass of wine afterward and allow the experience to continue. You have time to process this shared human experience.”

In its programming, the organization seeks to entertain rather than pontificate. Hatmaker describes a typical program as “a mix-tape you’d make for your boyfriend or girlfriend.” The concerts typically mix 20th-century classics—Britten, Shostakovich, Villa-Lobos—with works by contemporary composers like Aaron Jay Kernis, Nico Muhly, Kevin Puts, and Caroline Shaw. Art of Élan also commissions at least one new work a season; among its composer-alums are Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin and Chris Brubeck.

The organization’s “Crossfire” concerts are particularly intent on shaking up genre expectations; each features a set of classical music followed by what Hatmaker calls “something distinctly non-classical,” like a 2015 event featuring an “after-party” with fiddler John Mailander. “We don’t expect everybody will love everything, but there will always be that one moment where there’s a connection,” Hatmaker says.

Hatmaker is now looking for new territories in which to spread Art of Élan’s message. “We’ve accomplished what we want to do in San Diego. Now what?” she asks. “We live in such a polarized world, but music is one of the few remaining unifying forces. If we, as musicians, can help the conversation along, maybe we can be a force for good.”

© 2017 Chamber Music Magazine