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Performance: Art of Élan Widens Audience For Classical Music

Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill of Art of Élan.
Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill of Art of Élan.
Performance: Art of Élan Widens Audience For Classical Music
Art of Élan is the brainchild of two local Symphony musicians. By shortening concerts and performing in unique venues, Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill are broadening the audience for contemporary classical music.

Lots of people talk about making classical music accessible to a new audience, but Art of Élan is doing it.

The chamber music group is the brainchild of two young musicians with the San Diego Symphony. The stated goal is to make classical music exciting again, and they're going to show us how they do it.


Kate Hatmaker is a founding member of Art of Élan. She plays the violin.

Demarre McGill founded Art of Élan with Kate and plays the flute.

Joining them for performances today are:

Jeff Zehngut, violin

Travis Maril, viola

Erin Breene, cello

Art of Élan will perform a concert this Thursday night, Feb. 3rd at the Barrio Logan art space Glashaus.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Lots of people talk about making classical music accessible to a new audience, but the art of Élan is doing it. The chamber music organization, art of Élan, is the brain child of two young musicians with the San Diego symphony. The ensemble's stated goal is to make classical music exciting again. They are here today to show us how they do it. I'd like to welcome the members of the art of Élan, Kate Hatmaker is a founding member, and she plays the violin. Good morning, Kate.

HATMAKER: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Demarre McGill, FOUNDED art of Élan with kate, and play the flute. Hi Demarre.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joining them for the performances today are Jeff Zehngut, on violin, Travis Maril on viola, and Erin Breene on cello. Good morning, and welcome to you all. Now, the art of Élan is performing a concert this Thursday, at the Barrio Logan arts based Glashaus. And the title of this how you'll be performing is Crossfire. That title seems to capture the essence of art of Élan. Kate, can you explain the title for us?

HATMAKER: Sure. Well, basically, we wanted audience to truly feel that they were caught in a crossfire of different musical ideas. One of the main things for Thursday night is to sort of shift people's perception of what classical music has to be. Art of Élan is gonna be doing a one hour performance of classical repertoire that borrows elements from rock and pop music. So you'll have a piece for electric guitar and string quartet, for example, and immediately following our performance that evening, we're gonna be featuring a local band called the Heavy Guilt. And the hope is for audience members to start questioning, well, how different is this music I'm hearing right now different from what I just heard from Art of Élan?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Trying to just hear it as music?

HATMAKER: Precisely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm so glad I got it.

HATMAKER: You should come on Thursday.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Demarre, you and Kate are both San Diego symphony musicians. Can you tell us the story about the start of art of Élan.

MCGILL: Sure, I met Kate when I was acting principle flute with the Pittsburgh symphony. And she was a violin substitute with the symphony. Kate won a job with the San Diego symphony around the same time that I found out I was coming back to San Diego. So on the truck ride cross conserve, we started talking and realized we had a lot of things in common, and one of the things in common was that we both had the desire to really bring classical music to the community and we thought that with our energy, and we had some basic marketing ideas and programming ideas, that we could do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you bring us into that conversation just a little bit? Because I know a lot of people for a long time have been talking about making classical music relevant, accessible to a younger generation. Just about every maestro that I've ever spoken with has talked about that. And you must have heard it over and over again. Of so what is it that you and Kate actually talked about on that truck ride to San Diego?

MCGILL: Well, one of the things that we discussed was the fact that we grew up listening to a lot of nonclassical music. And we still listen to a lot of nonclassical music. So when we go to a classical music concert. Our reaction to it, we feel, is similar to a nontraditional classical music goer. And so we were thinking, why don't we simply create a program that we find entertaining for us, trusting that our -- the gauge for that is actually very similar to a person that is not familiar with classical music?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Kate, you know, you play the violin, you're simply musicians, you're a classical music, I wonder, though, as you came up and you were listening to all types of music, how would people react to the fact that you were studying classical violin?

HATMAKER: In terms of my friends or --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In terms of your friends, yeah, your contemporaries.

HATMAKER: Well, it's interesting, I actually still keep in touch with a good number of people from my childhood, all who knew he as someone who played the violin for fun on the side, and it always seemed to be this specialized thing in a way. But what's great about now becoming a professional violinist is that suddenly that's a different kind of respect that goes along with it. I think they think, wow, you can actually make a living as a professional classical musician. How cool. And yet, sometimes they're still hesitant to come to concerts. And so William art of Élan, I'm somehow now actually piquing their interest a lot bit, and they're curious about, oh, well, I can enjoy this as well? So I think art of Élan is actually in my personal life has been very interesting and useful as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I'm wondering, you say you like to mix up the repertoire. How do you actually decide what pieces to perform?

HATMAKER: We're such an on line society These Days. And what we've always enjoyed about our art of Élan programs are that they are short. One hour in length, no intermission. And we try to program things that you don't often hear at classical music concerts. Just because the novelty of that appeals to both of us, finding and making new discoveries. Demarre actually has quite a patience for this artistic process, and spends quite a lot of time on line, listening to new composers, finding links to other new composers. So you will notice in our concerts that there are people you've never heard of, but they're all high energy, exciting short works use a variety of instrumentation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's remarkable. Now, you're gonna play a piece for us, Demarre, from a piece we have heard of, Debussy. And I think it's called sa rings?

MCGILL: Sa risks. Yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you're gonna perform this work for us now?

MCGILL: I will.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. That's wonderful. And you tell us a little bit about the piece?

MCGILL: Right. Well, deb usee composed sa risks, I believe 1913, 1912, 1913. It was written as incidental music for the play psyche. And sa rings referred to the pan pipes played by the demi~ God pan from Greek mythology. It's a gorgeous work. This in a way may seem like I work that we wouldn't have in an art of Élan concert. But in all actuality, it probably would fit perfectly because it's so atmospheric, and it's so moving. And that's -- that's pretty much our criteria is that if it moves you, we'll program it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right. All right. This is Demarre McGill performing Debussy's Syrinx.

(Musical Piece Performed).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was Demarre McGill performing Debussy's Syrinx for solo flute. They were the pipe was pan. That was marvelous, thank you for that.

MCGILL: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, that's the kind of short evocative one might even say sexy piece of music that perhaps would get people more interested in or be willing to expand their view of classical music; is that right, Kate?

HATMAKER: Indeed. Actually, even the name of the organization, Art of Élan, I often get questions about.


HATMAKER: Why élan? And for me, it's a French word that really evokes all of those things, spirit and vitality, and good energy. And we just thought, if you can infuse a little more élan into classical music, and into everything that you do, what an exciting world it really would be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, you're gonna be playing a second piece for us. And I want to talk a little bit about it, before you begin. You said that you find a lot of pieces, Demarre does, and you all do, by tracking them down on the Internet we're gonna hear a piece today by a composer named Ljova? Is that how you say?

MCGILL: Ljova.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about him.

HATMAKER: Well, actually, he's a classmate of Demarre's from Juliard, and he was a violist at the time?

MCGILL: Yes. He composed as well. But I knew him at the time as a violist.

HATMAKER: And his name is actually Lev Zhurbin, he has now this pen name, and he performs with a band as well, Ljova and the Contraband, I believe, in New York. And he draws from a variety of folk influences from around the world. So he wrote a suite for string quartet that involves folk melodies from Cuba and from Mali, and some Kleismer tunes in there as well, and even some jazz sounds from New York City where he lives. But this first piece that we are going to do today is called Bagel on the Malacon.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's where the bagel comes from. I was wondering of what's a Malacon.

HATMAKER: Well, it's actually the long board walk in Havana Cuba. And his utopian dream, these are his words is that some day he will be able to enjoy a bagel, a New York 73 staple, while walking on the Malacon in Cuba.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's wonderful. What should we listen for musically in this piece.

HATMAKER: Well, you know, there's a lot of special effects that he uses. It's a spring quartet that will be performing but you'll hear at the beginning sort of a tapping sound. Which is actually, the violinists or I think all the instruments tapping on the wood of their instruments. He's really into bringing out the percussive sounds and the beat of Cuban culture and Cuban music. And I think you'll definitely hear that throughout. Incidentally since Ljova is a violist, our violist today has pretty much the main solo line in the beginning.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And your violist today is Jeff Zehngut. And I'm going to -- oh, I'm sorry, no, Travis Maril. My eyes skipped a line. Travis Maril has the lead in this. I'm gonna give you all a chance to get into your places, this is a piece called bagel on the mala con, and it is written by a composer named Ljova, and it is performed by the art of Élan.

(Audio Recording Played).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. That was delightful, that was bagel on the Malacon, composed by Ljova, and performed by the art of Élan. Travis Maril, viola. And Jeff Zehnburg, Erin Breene on the cello, and Kate Hatmaker, playing violin. We have to take a short break. When we return, I'll continue my conversation with the two founders of art of Élan, Kate Hatmaker, Demarre McGill, and of course hear more music. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and listening to These Days on KPBS. And I'm here with a musical group called Art of Élan, and it's founded by two musicians with the San Diego Symphony, Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill. And it's been founded to make classical music exciting and accessible again to people who perhaps are put off by the idea of going to a classical music concert. And one thing I did want you to make clear, Kate, because I think we kind of glossed over a little bit, the way that these concerts are presented. You said they're only an hour in length.

HATMAKER: Yeah, that's correct. Oftentimes as Demarre mentioned earlier, I even get tired going to classical music concerts issue you know, 2, 2 and a half hours, sitting in some huge dark hall, then there's the intermission, and we thought, wouldn't it be great if I could just get it all into one hour, no break for people to get tired and then we can go to happy hour afterwards? So we currently have a concert series at the San Diego museum of art where we play in one of the galleries, and we can fit about -- I'd say about a hundred and 30 some people in there, and it really has a very intimate feel because you are just sitting feet away from people. And so I think the length of the concert combined with the venue we're performing in, and the fact that they're so intimate really draws people, and make it more exciting for the people as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Demarre, are the concerts ever actually linked to the paintings in the gallery, let's say, something like that? Are you trying to make this a sort of a multimedia, if I can say, experience in some way?

MCGILL: Absolutely, all of our concerts at the museum of art are art inspired. So we'll take a work of art, and if we're moved by it, we'll try to find a program that actually makes sense --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: With the art you're surrounded by right?

MCGILL: Yeah, exactly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. Because the idea of making classical music into music, I mean, in people's minds, simply another type of music that incorporates elements that aren't always thought of as classical music. I'm drawn to the [CHECK AUDIO] heroin. Now, you'll be doing that at Glashaus on Thursday. And I'm wondering, why did you choose that for Thursday's performance, Demarre?

MCGILL: Well, we wanted a program that wasn't typical -- a classical music program that wasn't typical, that was edgy, and what's edgier than --


MCGILL: Than Lou reed, and a work called heroin. I encountered this work maybe a year and a half ago and just absolutely loved David Laing's arrangement of it for voice, male voice, and cello. It's haunting, it's gritty at the same time, thought because of the text. And I thought this would be absolutely appropriate for our cross fire at the Glashaus concert.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, when you say you're reworking it, are you actually reorchestrating it in some way for chamber music?

MCGILL: I haven't. There's a New York composer, one of the founders of the new music group, bang on a can, David Lang, this is his arrangement.


MCGILL: He got permission from Lou Reed to do this, and in it turn, we got permission from David Lang to perform it, because the work is not published. But just to be able to perform a work like heroin on a classical music program is exactly what we want to be doing. You know? To show people, listen, yes, this is it classical music, believe it or not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, just on I technical point, not on a music technical point, but on a technicality, really, you're listening to the Internet and picking all sorts of sources of new music and new ideas, is it sometimes hard to get the rights to perform these pieces.

HATMAKER: Absolutely. Of at our most recent concert at the San Diego museum of art, we performed an unpublished work by Copeland, it was called Elegies, for violin and viola, and it wasn't so much tricky as that there just some steps that you had to go through. We had sent an e-mail to the Library of Congress saying, hey, do you have this? Can you give it to us for this really cool series that we have here? And they said, well, it's this manuscript thing, you better write to the Copeland family, the Copeland fund foundation. So then you write to them and explain, and then they write back, then you write again to the Library of Congress, and we ended up with this manuscript that was almost unreadable, and actually a friend of Deamarre's had to sort of clean it up so that the musicians were sort of able to read it. And he mentioned that David Laing was gracious enough to grant us the rights to perform his Heroin, but especially with contemporary music of course a lot of times, these pieces are being written, you know, not that long beforehand. And so sometimes it is hard to convince people that we should be doing it in San Diego. But I think it benefits all of us that it is happening here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to -- I know that everyone wants to hear you play another piece of musician. But I do want to ask you a question about the idea of bushing the boundaries of classical music. Because I know they do that an awful lot in music departments issue I'm especially thinking of UCSD, where we have had a number of new composers on, and the music is challenging and it's kind of difficult, and it pushes the boundaries, not only of classical music, but of music itself. And I'm wondering what you think about that approach of expanding the boundaries of classical music.

MCGILL: I knowledge it's very important to have an institution as you mentioned like UCSD, whose mission, I believe, one of the mission system to push the boundaries of music, of classical music in particular. It's our job, my job and Kate's job, to sift through a lot of music, at least which is what we consider our job to be, and to find things that we feel people will love. People may disagree with a lot of our choices. But we're simply -- whether it's new or old, it needs to sound good, whatever that means for me and for you.


HATMAKER: Well, if I could just add something to that process as well, you know, it's not that we just come up with, say, oh, here's a handful of pieces no one's ever done of let's put it on a concert here, I mentioned earlier that I really feel Demarre has a knack for creating an overall concert experience. And that means at last at the museum, and the Glashaus as well with Crossfire, the order of things is important issue the context of them is important. We're not just after presenting all contemporary music am we'll often mix things up, but in a way that we think will move the audience in the end of the day. So it's also providing the right framework and the right context for a lot of these works.

MCGILL: So in a sense, we do consider ourselves music curators, as far as how we shape the program and the music we pick. We're not just showcasing new music to showcase new music. We're showcasing good music.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand. Well, s I say, everybody's waiting for you to play again. So I'm going to give them the opportunity to hear you. You're gonna perform another piece by Ljova, called budget Bulgar. And Demarre, what is the composer up to in this?

MCGILL: I believe, actually Kate would be better to --

HATMAKER: Well, actually, we decided we wanted to do this today because this is one of the most fun things we've played as a string quartet.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: More fun than Bagel?

HATMAKER: In a different way. This is a pretty fiery Klesmer tune. And Ljova explains that he got his inspiration for this while he was just gigging at a wedding in New York, and propped his cell phone up on the hood of a car in a parking lot and sang this little melody to himself and went home and was just in klesmer mood, so he wrote this piece as an inspiration from that.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, let me introduce once again, the art of Élan, they're purchasing a piece by Ljova called budget Bulgar.

(Audio Recording Played).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a compensation by Ljova called budget bull bar, and it's performed by the art of Evan, and thank you so much for that. The art of Élan today is made up of Jeff Zehngut on violin, Travis Merrill on viola, Eric Breene on cello. The two founding members of Art of Élan, and Demarre McGill playing the flute. And I wanted to ask you, so there are sort of, like, rotating members of this particular ensemble?

HATMAKER: Yes, we wanted to make it a point when we created the organization that we were just that, an organization and not a group. Just because there are so many awesome musicians in Southern California and elsewhere. And wouldn't it be great if we could just match certain people's personalities to a particular program? So the logical drawing base, of course, is the San Diego musicians [CHECK AUDIO] but there are quite a lot of other people here in Southern California and beyond that we invite to perform in our concerts as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you offer a great feature called instant encore. And I don't know that a lot of people are familiar with that. So tell bus it.

MCGILL: Instant encore is a site -- is a company based in San Diego and what instant encore allows us to do is, the day after all of our concerts, you're able to go on-line and hear the entire concert for free. If you attended the concert, [CHECK AUDIO] Ipod or whatever. But it's been a wonderful way to expose audiences here and pretty much everywhere in the world to the concerts that we present in San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds just fascinating. I know it was new to me. And so basically sort of, like, on Friday, people will be able to down load the concert at the Glashaus on Thursday; is that right?

MCGILL: Right, Friday or Saturday, the concert will be available for streaming if you're not at the concert.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Right. That's amazing of we are out of time. But I really want to thank you for coming in and playing this morning. It was delightful to meet you, and great luck with this endeavor, the art of Élan. Thank you.

HATMAKER: Thank you.

MCGILL: Thank you so much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I want everyone to know that the Art of Élan will perform a concert, and the concert is called Crossfire this Thursday night, it's February 3rd at the Barrio Logan arts space Glashaus. And if you would like to comment please go on-line, Days.