San Diego’s New “Take a Friend to the Orchestra” Experience
By: Evan Schumacher
In 2007 two of San Diego Symphony’s young musicians changed my expectations for a classical music concert. They did what many consider impossible by creating an event that stimulates long time classical music fans and at the same time being open and engaging to newcomers. While classical music struggles to remain relevant in the flood of the digital age, the chamber music series that Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill have created, Art of Elan, shows how it can thrive. It is an experience that has allowed me to share classical music with my friends who would never have sought it out on their own.
Each concert follows a similar recipe:
- Distinct Theme – All the pieces on the program relate to the theme of the evening. Past themes include surrealism, foreign composers with American connections, jazz-inspired classical music, and storytelling.
- New Music and Composers – There are no warhorses of classical music being played. It’s fresh and modern music that will surprise all listeners. It’s also good music, not just different for the sake of being different.
- Fantastic Musicians – The roster changes each concert, but you are guaranteed to have world class musicians giving it their all with passion and poise.
- Short Programs – Concerts last one hour. That’s a rule. Typically the program will consist of 4 or 5 pieces so the audience never gets bored.
- Intimate Venue – Concerts take place in the Hibben Gallery at the San Diego Music of Art. Often times you are surrounded by the art that inspired the program. What it lacks in acoustics it makes up for in atmosphere.
The vision of Kate and Demarre has blossomed into one of San Diego’s premier artistic events. Now in its fourth season, Art of Elan concerts are packed (and often overflowing) and have received critical acclaim (see here, here, here and here).
Just as important as the acclaim from long time classical music fans is that new comers are enjoying it, too. Much of this can be explained by the event surrounding the event. After the concerts, all the musicians can be found right outside the gallery ready to meet the audience. Classical music is much more accessible when you realize that the artists are people just like you. It’s one thing to see a great performance, it’s another to put a face and name to it. But the event doesn’t stop there. Everyone in the audience is welcome to join the co-directors and musicians at The Prado, the hip restaurant just outside the museum, for food and drinks and to continue the lively evening.
In a 24/7 Internet connected world, it takes more than a single good event to build an audience, though. Art of Elan has tackled this problem by using the technology to stay connected with their audience even when they aren’t performing. At each concert, audience members are given a business card with a “download code” that allows the user to download the concert they just heard. On the day after the concert, the download codes can be redeemed for free at InstantEncore.com (disclosure, I’m a co-founder of InstantEncore) so that the audience can re-live the experience – or share it with friends. And when people redeem their code, they can “Become a Fan” of Art of Elan, which means they’ll be alerted when the next concert is coming up. Art of Elan also allows anyone across the globe to stream their concerts online from their InstantEncore page (instantencore.com/artofelan). By using technology, Art of Elan maintains mind-share until their next concert.
What makes Art of Elan unique and special for me is that it has created an experience that makes me want to take my friends to a concert. More importantly, they’ve created an experience that will make my friends want to come back. This doesn’t have to be unique to San Diego, the ingredients that go into Art of Elan can be found throughout the United States. We have no shortage of talented musicians, new music, interesting venues, people who want to experience culture, and sharp minds who want to see classical music grow. If all of this can be combined then classical music will flourish throughout the 21st century.