Art of Elan Creates Synergy of Music and Art
By Jeff Britton
On several occasions, I have taken two noted artists to concert, only to have them doze off after the first few bars. To these visually-oriented folks, music is a balm that coaxes them into a peaceful snooze. Maybe Art of Elan has the perfect antidote by placing its audience in the museum’s lovely Hibben Gallery, and limiting the concert to about an hour, surrounded by beautiful timeless paintings and sculpture. If the music doesn’t grab you, surely the art will. The intimate 125-seat gallery recalls the elegance of salon concerts of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Now in its third season, Elan was founded by San Diego Orchestra’s principal flautist, Demarre McGill, and violinist Kate Hatmaker during a cross-country drive. The pair met in Pittsburgh when Hatmaker was named to an open violin chair and they were throwing out ideas of how to make a difference in the arts community of San Diego.
“We came up with the name on that ride, without the visual arts in mind,” said McGill. “It was about the art of life, spirit, momentum and the burst of vigor and how that relates to classical music.”
They were not interested in forming a conventional chamber group, but one where they were free to program whatever they wanted, including contemporary compositions that used a variety of musical motifs. Their initial goal was to create an organization that people would trust as consistently entertaining, rather than audiences coming for a particular program. Adding artistic themes would insure a mixture of all kinds of music.
The opening concert on Sept. 29 has a dance theme suggested by a Degas sculpture of a young girl en pointe called “Dancer Fastening the Strings of her Tights.” Eight musicians will participate, including a harp, a harpsichord, a guitar, a string quartet and Hatmaker on violin.
Rameau’s work for harpsichord is a timeless piece, according to McGill, even though it is from the French Baroque period: “When I listen to his music, I’m not just drawn to the structure which doesn’t seem academic. It gets me excited and I feel the groove.”
The goal is for people to feel the context that this is dance music. McGill, Hatmaker and their fellow musicians listen to a wide variety of music, and they hope listeners will hear it in the context of movement, whether fast or slow.
In contrast to the energy of Rameau, Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances” for harp and string quartet is all about mood — impressionistic, very mellow and with a slower tempo.
Stressing diversity in instrumentation, McGill found two modern pieces to round out the evening. Guitarist Colin McAllister from UCSD is featured in Pulitzer-prize winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Top One Hundred Greatest Dance Hits.” The four-movement piece takes salsa, easy listening, disco and other genres and blends them into a classical motif inspired by these dances but not imitative of them. It’s original and fun at the same time.
Perhaps the most exotic entry on the bill of fare is Lev Zhurbin’s (who goes by the singular name Ljova) “Vjola Suites”, a composition of five dances that blends Cuban, belly dancing, meditative dance music of Mali and India, and klezmer. This strange hybrid has become the unofficial anthem for Israeli youth. Ljova, a viola grad from Juilliard, acquired this eclectic spirit as an arranger for Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and the Kronos Quartet.
It’s a fine paean to Degas’ sculpture, which captures the dancer’s attitude and energy.
The other concerts at the art museum are Surreal on Nov. 24, inspired by Rene Magritte’s “The Shadows” and Shades of Affection on Jan. 12, suggested by Pablo Picasso’s “Painter and Model III.”
The series will conclude with two special concerts, April 16 and 18, at the Sherwood Theater in La Jolla, featuring the debut of “ALICE,” a work for chamber ensemble and contemporary dance by Philadelphia composer Joe Hallman. The Colette Harding Contemporary Dance Company will collaborate with Art of Elan.
Doors open at 6:15 p.m. for the 7 p.m. concerts at SDMA, where patrons can peruse the art in the upper galleries before the concerts. Following the concerts, the audience is invited to join the musicians for food, drink and conversation at the Prado restaurant across the street from the museum.
Even my snoozy artist friends should be able to stay awake for this event.
Information: www.artofelan.org or (619) 692-2081. To purchase tickets online: www.sdmart.org/ticket-purchase.html.
Tickets are $20 for Museum members/$25 non-members/ $10 students. Discount season subscription tickets are also available through SDMA.