The Constella Festival seemed to come out of nowhere. It debuted in 2011, and it roared onto the local scene with such force and bravado that people hardly knew what to make of it.

Some were confused, thinking it was one of those hipster, indie-rock festivals, like "Coachella." Others had difficulty because Constella was hard to pigeonhole. But that was no accident.

Officially, it's called the Constella Festival of Music and Fine Arts. Some refer to it as a chamber music festival. But that description is too narrow. It is not built around ensembles playing Mozart or Haydn or Mendelssohn, though you will find a bit of each on the schedule.

Constella just doesn't fit the mold. For that matter, it isn't particularly interested in molds.

Complicated by Design

This year's Sept. 30-Nov. 6 lineup, for instance, includes jazz with more than a hint of Miles, edgy contemporary dance, visual arts, opera solos and duets, an all-Debussy piano recital, a work for "strings and electronics" and ... the list is all over the place.

Making it even harder to pin down is that almost all of the presentations are collaborations.

"It is a little bit complicated, isn't it," laughs Tatiana Berman, the founder and artistic director.

Berman, a gifted violinist, is the quintessential Cincinnati outsider. Born in Moscow, raised in St. Petersburg, she was educated in Russia and London. Cincinnati was never on the horizon for her until she met conductor Paavo Järvi in London.

They married, had children and eventually settled in Cincinnati when he was named music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The couple divorced in 2010, and Järvi left town the next year after stepping down from the CSO. Berman stayed.

Cincinnati's Renaissance

"When I came here first in 2002, I lived downtown," says Berman. "London was my home. Cincinnati was not the best place to walk around downtown at the time."

But now, she says, Cincinnati is becoming a very different city.

"In the past two or three years, I think there has been a renaissance here," she says. "The energy, the younger people moving downtown, the renovations in Over-the -Rhine, Washington Park "” the city is flourishing. I am one of the city's biggest supporters."

So when it came time to plan her next chapter, it seemed logical to make it here.

"It's a funny thing about Cincinnati," says Berman. "People live here and come from here, but they don't have a vision of how this city could be. I had this vision for quite a while. There are all these fantastic people and artists and organizations here. I thought it would be a good idea to bring them all together."

That's what gave birth to Constella, a name the festival's website says "is derived from the idea of a collection of individual points of view, genres and influences that come together to create a complete constellation."

Berman is a matchmaker, drawing on her vast network of friendships, venues and professional connections, and finding ways to help them work together.

"It's quite amazing what she has been able to accomplish," says John Spencer, a local management consultant who serves on Constella's board of trustees. "When Tatiana arrived in Cincinnati, there must have already been 10 chamber music groups. But she found a way to expand on those ... and to broaden their reach into the community."

And, he might add, a way to stretch the very idea of what chamber music and all these other forms are.

An example. The festival opens at 2 p.m. Sept. 30, when former CSO clarinetist Anthony McGill, now principal clarinet for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, performs at the UC College-Conservatory of Music. He'll play "Soliloquy," by John Corigliano, who has not only won a Pulitzer Prize, but also a Grammy and an Academy Award. Just that one piece would make for an intriguing presentation.

But there's more. He'll be joined by Berman and CSO principal cellist Ilia Finkelsteyn to play works by Mozart and Ferrucio Busoni. If that weren't enough, they'll be joined by flutists Randy Bowman and Nina Perlove to perform the world premiere of Mark Adamo's "August Music."

That's the first performance of the festival, which includes 22 events in 34 days.

A Who's Who in the Arts

To keep Constella's budget manageable, Berman has coaxed 14 other arts organizations to share the economic responsibility.

The list of participants is a who's who of Cincinnati arts groups; the Linton Series Chamber Music Series, the Blue Wisp, the Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Bi-Okoto Cultural Institute, the Mayerson Jewish Community Center, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and half a dozen others.

So what's in it for them?

"This is a chance for us to reach an audience we never have contact with," says Andrew Hubbard, co-founder and artistic co-director of Exhale Dance Tribe. "Plus, Tatiana really makes us challenge ourselves. She presents us with music we'd never choose for ourselves."

Constella is more than thought-provoking entertainment, though, says Margy Waller, a former vice-president at ArtsWave who is now senior fellow for the Topos Partnership.

"Too often I hear people saying it doesn't really matter what the rest of the world thinks about Cincinnati," says Waller. "There is a sense of self-satisfaction that I think isn't healthy. But a festival like this demonstrates to those who aren't here just what a progressive and innovative Cincinnati can be."

And that, says Berman, is the point.

"I am not sure that it would be possible to do something like this to such an extent anywhere else in the world. The musicians I bring here come from all over the world. And after they play, they will go back to the rest of the world and talk about what a wonderful place Cincinnati is."

So will Berman turn around in a couple of years and find a larger, more glamorous city to call home?

"Why would I leave," she says. "I am not going anywhere. I'm just warming up. I feel my life is just beginning. I feel younger than ever and at the same time, more experienced than ever. ...

"So, no "” I am not leaving. This is just the beginning . I have big plans for the festival. And whatever happens, I will be its artistic director for many years to come."