Ten Minutes With Paul Haas
A multi-talented conductor
Photo by Suzette Haas
Paul Haas is equal parts award-winning conductor, composer, and installation artist. Currently the music director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA), Haas has performed with greats like Itzhak Perlman and studied with teachers like Michael Tilson Thomas and Otto Werner-Mueller. He lives in Bedford with his wife Suzette, a concert violinist and lawyer turned yoga teacher, and their two daughters.
How were you first introduced to music? When I was in kindergarten, I went to my older sister’s violin lesson and apparently I wouldn’t shut up until I could play too. Later, I began singing in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, which I realize now, really piqued my interest in buildings and acoustics. By seventh grade, I was taking jazz piano too and teaching myself to compose and arrange music. I would spend hours learning to differentiate between specific voices and instruments. I wound up majoring in music at Yale.
Were you in the Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s acappella singing group? Yup, it was one of those key life experiences.
How did conducting start to play a role? After Yale, I went to Dresden to study conducting. I had an awesome choral conductor who asked if I could be his assistant. Over time, I was able to come up with my own way of eliciting unique colors from the music. I thought if I can do that with a human voice imagine what would happen with an orchestra. It became more about emotion and psychology and spirituality than how long to hold that note.
Tell me about your non-profit Sympho. Sympho was born from my feeling of disconnectedness at performances of orchestral music. The whole ritual had become off-putting. I started taking notes on what I would do differently. We started with a concert at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York that was called “Rewind,” a journey five centuries back in time. People were moving from place to place within the hall, so they felt completely immersed in the experience. Sympho was asked to start creating these events. I go to a space where a project is envisioned, and I inhabit it for a couple of weeks. The architecture, atmosphere, and acoustics swim around together in my subconscious.
What attracted you and your family to this area? We just fell in love with it. I’ve always been drawn to gardening and working in open land. So I was really happy when we found a place that didn’t have a cookie-cutter feel to it. I’m not bitten by the bug to transform our yard into something manicured.
What’s on the radio in your car? My all-time favorite band is Sigur Ros, followed by Bjork. I also have a spot for the Doobie Brothers. But because I surround myself with music all day, I actually really enjoy silence.
Are you ever interested in leaving classical music behind and being a rock star? Of course. But for some reason when I was younger, I wasn’t aligning myself with people who would take me in that direction. And truthfully, I am glad. I have a really rich life, and I found a place where I am who I am. I have my own spot in the world.