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Meet Isaac Allen of Hausmann Quartet

Today we’d like to introduce you to Isaac Allen.

Isaac, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The Hausmann Quartet started 15 years ago on the East Coast as four friends at a music conservatory who shared a passion for the string quartet repertoire and a mutual sense of idealism in the act of collaborating as a team, both artistically and professionally.

We spent a summer together at a music festival reading (often through the night) as much repertoire as we could for fun and found that we enjoyed playing together and began to discuss the possibility of staying together and developing our skills as an ensemble. It wasn’t until I lost my keys and got locked out of my apartment in Boston at the end of that summer that Bram (second violinist who let me stay with him while my roommate mailed my keys back) and I had the time to talk more seriously about the prospect, and after getting the others approval, the Hausmann Quartet was born.

After a couple years of studying as a quartet in Boston, we moved to Kent Ohio to study and work with the Miami Quartet at which point my wife Angela joined the group as a violist. Three years after that we won a prestigious competition that included in its prize, the opportunity to work with the Alexander Quartet as teaching assistants for a fellowship in San Francisco. During that year especially we worked incredibly hard often rehearsing too much and traveling often, giving concerts and competing in international competitions.

Though we loved San Francisco, we felt the area was already saturated with numerous fine string quartets and started to talk seriously together about what our next step would be and where the best place was for the quartet to create a home base. It so happened that we were invited to be young artists at La Jolla Music Society SummerFest and an opportunity to pursue an Artist Diploma as an ensemble at SDSU came up at the same time.

As we began to look into San Diego further, we saw a vibrant city with an arts scene that was just starting to thrive and although it had many touring string quartets coming through to play concerts, there was no professional resident string quartet in the city at the time. It seemed like a perfect place to create and find our place in the community.

After we moved to San Diego and finished our Artist Diplomas, we joined the faculty and string department at SDSU, becoming the Fisch/Axelrod Quartet in Residence. Since then, we have really delved deeply into the community starting numerous programs including concert series, outreach activities and educational opportunities for the people of San Diego. Recently, we became a 501c3 not for profit organization which has allowed us to grow our programs and our presence in the region.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road has been anything but smooth and certainly not straight either, including a few personnel changes over the years. There have been many challenges, but if I were to pick the top two, I would say the first would be balancing our vocation as artists/musicians and our creative ideas with the realities of life, being able to survive to do what we love. I think throughout the group’s existence, we have had to learn and find how the two sides can support each other.

It took us a while for instance to learn that clarifying our long-term artistic visions and goals not only would help with the artistic side of the quarter but also with our fundraising capabilities. The second, which might be somewhat related, is simply not taking on more projects then we can produce the standards we want. The quartet has never had a shortage of ideas, but we have had to learn how to be better organized and realistic with our time and accept sometimes doing less then we want, but at a higher level of achievement.

Please tell us about Hausmann Quartet.
The Hausmann Quartet’s mission is is to enliven and enrich the Greater San Diego community and beyond by making chamber music a vital, relevant, and widely appreciated art form through a strong commitment to creative musical programs, educational outreach and collaborative partnerships.

I think that one of the things that makes us unique is our programming. We are always looking for new ways to present repertoire and in particular, enjoy finding ways to connect the old with the new. One of our latest projects is a multi-year concert series at the Maritime Museum that we have embarked on called Haydn Voyages. For this series, we are going through the entire (68!) string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn who in many ways invented the art form. Each program pairs Haydn with other living composers who have pushed the envelope creatively, similar to Haydn so many years ago. We find great interesting programming can really help open the ears in new ways even and sometimes especially for listeners who are less familiar with string quartet music.

On the education and outreach front, we are always looking for new ways to reach listeners and share our love of chamber music with both young and old. Aside from our regular work teaching chamber music to college students at SDSU, we have a year-round training program called Hausmann Chamber Music Program for middle and high school-aged kids. We do regular visits to schools throughout the San Diego area for clinics as well as teacher training workshops. We have a program called the Living Room Program for adult amateur musicians, and a program called Jam Sessions that combines us and music therapists from Resounding Joy to bring music to underserved populations (most recently at the Rescue Mission).

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Wow, what a tough question. I generally don’t spend much time thinking about the old “what if” and I am sure you would get a different answer from all four of us. I guess what comes to my mind is that I would have spent less time worrying about competitions and who we impressed or didn’t impress early on. Looking back, it seems like wasted time and energy that could have been spent on projects that we truly cared about. We eventually figured this out, but if I had to do again, I hopefully would have come to that understanding sooner!

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Image Credit:
Sam Zauscher

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