May 4 2011 12:00 AM

Chamber music can still pull an impressive crowd

Demarre McGill says San Diego isn't getting rid of him just yet
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Last night, a line stretched out the door, down the stairs and into the parking lot in front of the San Diego Museum of Art.

"Wow," said a guest as he took his place at the back of the line. "I've never seen the line this long before."

The draw was "Voce," a program of chamber music put together by Art of Elan.

Chamber music? you ask, brow furrowed with skeptical disbelief because you, like me, have never been to an Art of Elan show before.

But, in fact you, me and my husband—with his hipster-approved handlebar mustache and deep dedication to indie bands like Okkervil River—are exactly the type of people Kate Hatmaker and Demarre McGill of Art of Elan eventually want to see standing in that long line. ---

While last night's crowd did appear to be made up mostly of longtime chamber-music fans and/or converts who saw the light with the help of Art of Elan, there were a few younger audience members who seemed to be new to the whole chamber-music scene.

"I've never seen anything quite like this," said Hatmaker to the crowd, which extended well beyond the gallery and out into the foyer.

"Big smile," agreed McGill.

McGill, by the way, will soon be leaving his post as principal flutist at the San Diego Symphony for a new gig at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. 

"But this city has so much flavor," McGill said. "And that's why you can't get rid of me yet."

The young musician said he'd be back periodically to help with Art of Elan's next season, which is called "Stepping Out" and, according to McGill, might be one of the most exciting seasons to date.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to last night's performance. It didn't make me want to run out and buy every chamber-music CD ever made, but it did make me want to pay closer attention.

The cello, it turns out, is both my hubby's and my favorite instrument. Whether in the hands of Zoe Keating or the classically inclined performers last night, the sound that comes out of that beautiful wooden stringed instrument gives me goosebumps every time. That's probably why the performance of composer Caleb Burhans' "The Things Left Unsaid," a piece written for a cello octet, was by far my favorite of the night.

Click here to give it a listen.

Wow. And double wow when you consider that Burhans is just 30 years old.

Other pieces, especially "Cello Sonata No 1. in d minor" by Alessandro Scarlatti, won't ever be my thing, but when a guy like Demarre picks up his flute and, along with hauntingly beautiful prerecorded vocals, plays a piece that makes me drop my jaw—along with my lens cap, which, sadly, you can hear very clearly in the live recording—I know I'll be looking forward to the 2012 Art of Elan series right along with everyone else in that long line.


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