Welcome to paulhaas.com. I’m a conductor and composer, and a large part of my work involves creating musical and visual experiences for unusual venues. I serve as Music Director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and Artistic Director of Sympho, which creates live orchestral experiences for the 21st century. And I'm in the midst of starting an organic, self-sustaining homestead with my family.
A sampling of my installations
A fast-motion tour of it all, from Bionic Symphony to ARCO and TOWER, with everything in between. This is what I do, and Sympho has been there for me every step of the way.
An installation I created with Bora Yoon and Christopher Bono in Ann Hamilton's iconic 80-foot-tall venue.
Paul Haas was at the start of a promising conducting career when he devised and produced a concert project called REWIND in 2006, featuring composer and musician colleagues and violin soloist Anne Akiko Meyers. REWIND was a reaction against the staid nature of the standard classical music performance: audience members surrounded the performers, then left and started playing behind the audience on all sides. There were mirrored sculptures by Kate Raudenbush hanging from the ceiling, interacting in multifaceted ways with the subtle theatrical lighting design. Music started before the audience arrived, and it continued without pause – even between pieces – until after the audience left. A laptop artist injected samples of the orchestra and the audience into the texture.
REWIND had great success, prompting Haas to found Sympho, an organization devoted to the creation and performance of symphonic experiences in unusual venues. One critic, writing in Time Out NY, even called Haas 'visionary.’ But what touched Haas more were comments from those involved in the performance, from musicians and members of the audience. “I cannot remember a night at the symphony that was so transcendently beautiful. It was the kind of experience one hopes comes in the hereafter,” said one audience member after Sympho’s second concert, TRACES. Another said, “Although I get to enjoy live music on occasion, it is never with the intimacy, originality, and fervor that we saw last night.”
“I cannot remember a night at the symphony that was so transcendently beautiful. It was the kind of experience one hopes comes in the hereafter”
“As I reflected on these various creations, I found they went far beyond novelty, resonating deeply with my own ideas, with my search for meaning,” Haas says. The inspiration for Haas’ work comes from a wide array of spiritual and ecological sources, including a longstanding meditation practice and a deep connection to the earth that finds Haas, along with his wife Suzette and two young girls, in the process of beginning an organic homestead that aims eventually to be self-sustaining. His deep concern for the land, for the Earth, and for all its inhabitants, have led him to create art where, as Haas says, “beauty is the only artistic choice: not saccharine, sometimes painful, but always immediate and always real. I’m always striving to connect deep within to that place in each of us that craves beauty, that craves love.”
One result of Haas’ immersion in this creative process is his emergence as a composer: over the last decade, fifteen commissions have come in from a wide variety of iconic venues, including the Park Avenue Armory and Rubin Museum of Art in New York, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the Anchorage Museum of Art in Alaska, and the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design in Arkansas. Haas is the first artist ever to receive two separate commissions from the Oliver Ranch Foundation in Sonoma County, California, creating installations for Ann Hamilton’s groundbreaking Tower, an 80-foot-tall concrete tower with interior double-helix staircases. Haas explains why unusual venues figure so prominently in his output: “My work always celebrates space and our place within it. So many of us are disconnected from our surroundings, and it can be profoundly healing to become aware of – and even celebrate – where we are and how we fit in.”
“My work always celebrates space and our place within it. So many of us are disconnected from our surroundings, and it can be profoundly healing to become aware of – and even celebrate – where we are and how we fit in.”
An equally rich part of Haas’ professional life is his service since 2010 as Music Director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA), where an extraordinarily supportive community and the orchestra’s connection with an appreciative and faithful audience have allowed SoNA to grow its operations substantially. “I’m so proud of all we’re accomplishing,” says Haas. “When you look at the orchestral landscape across the country, it’s heartening to see examples of success – of true community engagement – like this one. It really is a unique situation.” SoNA’s fans are equally proud; one wrote to Haas, “You are truly a breath of fresh air – I love your youthful exuberance, and it’s easy to see that your players are really joining you in true music-making. That, my friend, is not so easy to do these days. So many professional orchestras tend to leave me, on one hand, very impressed with their impeccable intonation and their impressive ensemble playing, but on the other hand it seems as though many have played the standard literature so much that they have lost their love, true love for inspired playing. I haven’t really seen that before here until your arrival.”
Press Response (Conducting)
“The entertaining and imaginative Haas, a nationally acclaimed director, devotes considerable time and energy to creating unique and exciting performances… Haas had promised the finale would be an ‘unforgettable sonic experience.’ To me, that could pretty well describe the imminently indefatigable Haas himself… Haas doesn’t simply conduct these melodies. This man with a broad, endearing smile and a refreshingly dry sense of humor becomes one with the flourishes, swirls and rhythms. He also enjoys glancing over his shoulder at the audience and winking… The symphony heads into the new season expecting yet another round of sellout performances, deservedly so, in my book.” — Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reviewing a performance with Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA)
“The program was ambitious. The performance was electrifying. It was a concert that renews a community’s love of music and sends concertgoers clamoring for season tickets…Haas’ conducting was once again inspiring and filled with grace, elegance and confidence…The orchestra that enjoyed an auspicious last season was refocused for this one — perhaps re-galvanized is more accurate. There was an attitude of confidence with this orchestra that we hadn’t seen or heard before. Perhaps this was due to the sheer enjoyment of their newfound caliber of artistry. Perhaps it was due to the fact that they were consistently stunning. And they played like they knew it.” — City Wire, reviewing a performance with Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA)
“Paul Haas…managed to charm the audience again. It’s apparent to me that he has a natural gift for relating to people. He knows when to smile, to pause for effect, to wink at the thousands watching and to publicly recognize his musicians and even when to serve up his surprises. One of his greatest strengths, however, is simply understanding what kind of music and melodies will touch the hearts and souls of listeners and how to link those in the seats with their brethren in elegant black tie and gowns on the stage… — Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reviewing a performance with Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA)
“Perhaps that’s also what’s behind the magic Haas conjures on stage. He looks for ways to be continually interactive with his audience. He seeks to make them feel an ownership of the evening…He lays it out at the gut level with humor and people respond both to the authenticity and his abilities and personality.” — Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reviewing a performance with Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA)
“Paul Haas…offered a passionate, refined and keenly balanced account of [the opera].” — The New York Times, reviewing Montemezzi’s opera “L’amore dei tre re” in New York City
“Guest conductor Paul Haas…shook up the orchestra, opening up new expressive possibilities…he drew the orchestra through nitty-gritty explorations of the scores, building out from the details to tell big, gutsy stories. In Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, which opened the program, his flowing-waters baton shaped a mysterious whispered response from the players. Incrementally, the performance ascended to a rare fervor. Closing the program, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 (‘The Great’) grew in waves: pastoral, light on its feet, pouncing. A startlingly articulated sound was emerging, a thoughtful blending and highlighting of sections that seemed on the verge of releasing this already fine orchestra’s ‘inner voice’. If only Haas could come back, we might get to hear some Wurlitzer-sized surprises.” — San Jose Mercury News, reviewing a performance with Symphony Silicon Valley
“[T]he man has the potential to be a great conductor, and a radical one: just what Berkeley needs…Frankly, I have seldom heard the orchestra play better than under his baton…he has the gift of seeing the big picture…his superfast finale brought home the bacon; this time the contrast made the notes leap off the page, the orchestra played with aplomb, and at the conclusion the audience rose with tremendous cheers of excitement. Haas is the youngest conductor I have heard who could probably do the massive symphonies of Anton Bruckner justice…Haas studied the Tchaikovsky score so thoroughly that he conducted it from memory, gave a short lecture to the audience about its relationship to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and even wrote the program notes for the work.” — San Francisco Classical Voice, reviewing a performance with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra
“Mr. Haas is an energetic conductor who believes in what he is doing and knows how to do it. Thomas Beecham liked to say that successful conducting was the ability to hire good musicians, and Mr. Haas has assembled a first-rate band of young people…confident, well-rehearsed performances…Good luck to Sympho…it deserves to prosper.” — The New York Times, reviewing a performance with Sympho
“…a dazzling new concert format has been launched, moving us into the future by a century or two. Or maybe a millennium or two. This was a true ear-opener — and eye-opener too…Credit the fast-rising guest conductor Paul Haas from New York — a real find! — not only for bringing off the modern program, but also for extraordinary eloquence in leading these locals and making them sound like a million-dollar ensemble. His reading of Schoenberg’s mystical ‘Transfigured Night’ was to die for, as dramatic and sensitive as any you have ever heard.” — artssf.com, reviewing a performance with Sympho
“… the center of the evening was the supercharged Romanticism of Schoenberg’s ‘Verklärte Nacht’, performed with passion and beauty by Mr. Haas and his young players…” — The New York Times , reviewing a performance with The Knights and Sympho
“Paul Haas, the group’s dynamic young music director…is surely on the brink of a noteworthy career, judging by the evidence of his work with this fine group…Every note and gesture in the score could be discerned in his exacting stick technique and body language as he steered his players through a compelling performance.” — The New York Times, reviewing a concert with the New York Youth Symphony
“[An] accomplished performance of the Mahler Sixth…this was an involving and brave account of Mahler’s 85-minute score…visceral power, unerring ensemble…in the wistful Andante, disarming tenderness…And Mr. Haas conducted it from memory, winning enthusiastic applause…during a long ovation.” — The New York Times, reviewing a concert with the New York Youth Symphony
“On the basis of yesterday’s SDCO concert in Sherwood Hall, I am almost tempted to say – Stop the whole competition right now and hire Paul Haas. He’s your man. I have never heard this orchestra in better form under anybody else…Haas is clearly off on an impressive start to what is likely to be a highly successful career…Not only did Haas have the strings rushing almost flawlessly thought the exhilarating 16th notes of the finale, and not only were all tempos for all the movements well chosen and the orchestral attacks crisp and clean, Haas managed to get the balances just right under seemingly impossible conditions…Haas infused the ‘Haffner’ with the same combination of enthusiasm and musical intelligence he brought to the Beethoven.” — SanDiego.com, reviewing a concert with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra
“A zesty and beautifully polished reading…” — The New York Times, reviewing a concert with the New York Youth Symphony
“The young conductor Paul Haas was all about fresh thinking and visceral engagement. His music-making provided consistent surprises all evening — not from the kind of attention-hogging interpretive gestures you might expect in a conductor of his years, but from cogent ideas that revealed a keen musical mind and an impressive feeling for the natural pulse and trajectory of a score. Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser’ Overture proceeded in a single, unbroken arc from the beautifully blended wind chords of the opening through the brass iteration of the Pilgrims’ Chorus theme at the conclusion (phrased opulently here, with a lyricism not confined by bar lines). His tempos — forward-moving but never rushed — sounded utterly convincing, thanks to his skill at melding and tapering phrases to create a sense of gradually unfolding drama. Haas…was even finer in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Consistently drawing parallels between this work and its darker, more sublime cousin, the Sixth Symphony, he also tapped a vein of restless, ruminative emotion that brought to mind the composer’s operatic magnum opus, ‘The Queen of Spades’. More often than not, Haas took his time with the score, allowing Tchaikovsky’s brooding colors to fully distill. Yet, when speed and rafter-ringing power were required (as in the final movement), the conductor delivered, generating thrills without breathlessness or coarse tone. Indeed, throughout the evening, Haas’s sensitivity to rhythmic and dynamic gradation, and his ability to marry heartfelt expression with disciplined playing from the NSO…would have been impressive in a conductor three times his age. If Thursday’s concert was an accurate barometer of his talents, Haas is headed for a significant podium career.” — The Washington Post, reviewing a concert with Itzhak Perlman and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Wolf Trap Festival.
Press Response (Installations)
“REWIND refits the classical experience for a new century… You had the feeling of being with musicians, not just observing them… Traditional audiences demand to have their say, but here all stilted, ritual interruptions were squelched… The come-on to newcomers was clear: "Look, we can be hip too." Yet the center of the evening was the supercharged Romanticism of Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht," performed with passion and beauty by Mr. Haas and his young players… "Rewind" seemed to involve its young and substantial audience so acutely because the music and the musicians were very good… It also worked because the physical format made sure that classical music's bad habits didn't have a chance.” — The New York Times
“The pièce d’occasion turned out to be ARCO, a surprisingly mellow yet stubbornly complex essay in communal mysticism…fraught with intellectual subtlety and evolutionary significance…just sit back, relax and enjoy the exotic ride.” — Financial Times
“a mixed-media sensory experience that was like nothing I’ve seen before and, dare I say it, it even bordered on the spiritual.” — Salon.com
“ARCO…unfolded as a continuous, 90-minute, period- and style-hopping stream. A collaboration among the composers Paul Haas, Bora Yoon and Paul Fowler, ARCO borrows a couple of concepts from pop music: the mash-up, in which unrelated pieces are melded together, and the remix, which embellishes and reconstitutes familiar music…[The music was] gently meditative…exquisite.” — The New York Times
“The effect is haunting and evocative… a continuous cascade of music and visuals, unfamiliar and familiar, challenging and sublime… Haas' gutsy conducting style, as is usual for him, is energetic and elastic while being in control of and sensitive to changes in tempo, rhythm and dynamics. He throws his entire body into the performance in a way that has been continually lauded by critics since his professional debut in 1997… there is a frisson in the air, a sense among the audience members that something momentous has occurred in those 100 minutes as they step back onto the gritty streets of the Lower East Side.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“It’s high time these brilliant artists got access to a stage and audience worthy of their invention…[ARCO] echoed with all the weight of the hall’s history as both performance venue and practice site for armed battle…the ambition and scope of this new work [were] impossible to ignore.” — feastofmusic.com
"There was a genuine sense of event...it certainly exploded any notion I have of an orchestral concert. It felt as if something important was happening, something with emotional stakes, and it felt like I was a part of it." — Symphony Magazine
"…the audience was entranced by an idiosyncratic, intermission-free program that was arranged like an iPod playlist." — The New Yorker
"Newcomers to classical music get mystified by the protocols of the concert hall. The quasi-religious veneration of the event. The no coughing. The no clapping between movements of a given piece. The lack of visual stimulation, aside from staring at the musicians up on stage - rows of penguins, in black-and-white formal dress - for a couple of hours. Much of this was flipped on its head by Saturday's terrific "REWIND" program by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, led by Paul Haas, its guest conductor, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum in San Francisco. It stimulated more than the ears. It had an indie-rock hipness about it. It was fun, even: Imagine! And best of all, the music, which sampled centuries, from Baroque (Purcell, Corelli) to brash or bluesy modern repertory (Alfred Schnittke, James MacMillan), was smartly stitched together and beautifully played." — San Jose Mercury News
"REWIND fast-forwards the traditional concert via hip, multisensory stimulation that includes creative lighting, a kinetic sculpture suspended from the ceiling, electronic music, and innovative use of the performance space… In short, from innovative programming to awe-inspiring visuals, REWIND sought to keep its audience engaged. But did the performance succeed in doing so? It certainly did, according to my date for the evening, a nonmusician whom I have dragged to countless concerts. He said REWIND was the best concert we have ever attended together. He is neither a classical music aficionado nor someone over the age of 40, and precisely for those reasons, he falls within the program’s target audience. Judging by his opinion, REWIND resoundingly achieved its goal of engaging this group… The youngish audience gave it a standing ovation." — San Francisco Classical Voice
"…a dazzling new concert format has been launched, moving us into the future by a century or two. Or maybe a millennium or two. This was a true ear-opener -- and eye-opener too…Credit the fast-rising guest conductor Paul Haas from New York -- a real find! -- not only for bringing off the modern program, but also for extraordinary eloquence in leading these locals and making them sound like a million-dollar ensemble. His reading of Schoenberg's mystical "Transfigured Night" was to die for, as dramatic and sensitive as any you have ever heard." — artssf.com
Industry Response to Paul Haas and Sympho
Parker Monroe, Past Executive Director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra
“[Sympho is] totally fresh. It’s totally new. It’s completely new thinking about how to present concerts. Nobody else is doing this, so it’s very exciting for audiences, and it’s very exciting for performers.
“The thing that’s unique about Sympho is that they’re effectively tackling what everyone in the orchestra business is trying to do, which is to be appealing to, to attract, to engage emotionally and intellectually a younger audience. I’ve been to multiple Sympho performances – both ours and in New York – and they get a very young, intelligent audience, and they keep them riveted for two hours. Nobody else is doing that. It’s a hard challenge to take a medium that reached its artistic apogee 100-150 years ago and make it appeal to someone who spends eight hours a day online. It’s not so easy, and Sympho is tackling it better than anybody.
“For the NCCO, Paul Haas was a great partner because he was the artistic driving force behind the project, but he also helped us – the crew, the team, the administrative staff – to put the project together. He understood the artistic needs of the members of the orchestra and the soloists, but he also helped us behind the scenes. Putting the project together, working with the philanthropic community, working with publicists: there are a lot of things involved in getting a concert on the stage. He understands all of those things, which makes him uniquely effective and attractive to work with, and he made it fun for everybody.”
Elliott Forrest, Peabody Award-Winning Broadcaster and Producer, on Sympho
“You feel like it’s a ‘happening’. You feel like there’s something bigger than just a music concert going on, and I think the audience feels that. It’s palpable. It draws the audience in in a way they’re not used to, and I think that’s an amazing experience for a lot of people.
“It’s extremely exciting to be in a very unusual place, to take incredibly beautiful music and stage it in a way that people just don’t expect: to have it lit, to have a full experience in which it was happening from the moment you walked in (it was happening before you walked in!) and it continued through the rest of the night. The musicians are always top-flight – brilliant young players. All these ideas – that might be handled in a different way if it were all just for effect – would be lost if the musicmaking wasn’t first rate, which it always is.”
Rebecca Robertson, President and CEO of the Park Avenue Armory
“I think Paul Haas and Sympho are willing to take anything on, and that’s really exciting. Music needs to move with the times. You need to try to do it in different environments and mix it up. They’re ready, willing, and able to do that, and that’s a fantastic thing.
“[ARCO] was professional, and it was magnificently delivered. It was wonderful to see this all come together in the way that it did. It was easy – not for Paul – but easy for us to be involved in this work, because it was creatively brilliant and really well-executed.”
Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA
“In my work as the Artistic Director of the Park Avenue Armory in New York, I commissioned Haas to create a composition and live performance event for the opening of the inaugural Tune In Music Festival in 2011. What began as a straightforward proposition instead became a music event of grand proportion, in which Haas, along with Bora Yoon and Paul Fowler, generated a full concert length work that was deeply informed by the architecture of the Drill Hall at the Armory, drawing upon the unique aural and visual design properties of the space itself, as well as an epic cycle of music that exceeded all possible expectations. The piece, ARCO, was both site-specific to the Armory, and immensely relevant to the audiences who exuberantly found a unique voice through the sheer skill and depth of talent harnessed within the Sympho concert as devised and envisioned by Paul.”
William Reinert Associates
Post Office Box 1049
Millerton, NY 12546