Art of Élan, a chamber music group known for presenting unusual concerts in intimate settings, gave a delightful performance at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas Feb. 3. In connection with Lux’s current artist-in-residence, Sophia Narrett, the theme of the evening was “Honest Fantasy,” a term Narret has used to describe her creative process. The music included works by Shostakovich, Mazzoli and Muhly.
Although Shostakovich may be a familiar name to concertgoers, the others were not. Art of Élan’s greatest gift is introducing audiences to intriguing music they might otherwise never get to hear, by young composers now spreading their wings and their sounds worldwide. Missy Mazzoli has been hailed as “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” and Nico Muhly is also a New Yorker, whose works include operas, ballet scores and sacred choral music.
Before the concert, I spoke with Kate Hatmaker, San Diego Symphony violinist and co-founder/executive director of Art of Élan. A charming, articulate woman, she has been a featured soloist with orchestras around the country and is a passionate advocate for innovation in the arts. We talked about the Lux program, which she said was inspired by Narrett’s art.
“Her work is so interesting,” Hatmaker said. “She dives into the world of imagination, reflects on our collective societal fantasy, and she does everything with thread! All those TV reality shows —what is reality? Does life reflect art or the other way around? Valid questions, and she literally weaves them into her work. So we wanted to explore these topics with our music, too.”
The concert opened with Muhly’s “Honest Music,” where violinist Anna Skálová interacted with a pre-recorded audio collage. Then came Mazzoli’s vibrant “Lies you can believe in,” a trio performed by Skálová, violist Travis Maril and cellist Alex Greenbaum. (Greenbaum, incidentally, is married to Hatmaker: their greatest production last year was 10-week-old Max, who, with his babysitter, enjoyed the music from outside the gallery.)
Next on the program was a Haydn-influenced string quartet, “Entr’acte,” by yet another New Yorker, Carolyn Shaw, and then “Zoom Tube,” an exuberant little flute piece that Hatmaker called “our sorbet course.” Composed by Ian Clarke, a boundary-pushing Brit, it was performed by Erica Peel, San Diego Symphony’s newest piccolo player.
The hour-long program ended brilliantly with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1, which Hatmaker called a powerful, compact piece that no one knows or performs. “I’ve never heard it done,” she said. “For all I know, it’s the San Diego premiere.”
Afterward, she added: “This is what we like to do, provide a powerful, compact experience for people without taking up their whole evening. We give audiences an hour of music, with enough contrast between each piece that they don’t need a break. We don’t expect everyone to like everything we do, but we vary the sound world enough so your ears stay fresh and open.”
At the pre-concert reception, guests had a chance to admire Narrett’s eye-popping embroidered paintings. During her residency, she’s been creating a new thread-fantasy piece that was not yet ready for display. Born in Concord, Mass., she, too, lives in Brooklyn; she left Lux Feb. 16, but her work will remain on view through March 12.
— Upcoming concerts: artofelan.org
— Sophia Narrett: luxartinstitute.org