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and other recent piano works by Haskell Small

Haskell Small


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“...the concept of silence can be interestingly interpreted with music, which is what Haskell Small tries to do in The Rothko Room and A Glimpse of Silence. Small has a particular fascination with silence as interpreted through music: he is a fine and wide-ranging pianist, and one work with which he is particularly associated is the more-than-hour-long Música Callada by Frederic Mompou. With Small’s new MSR Classics CD, devoted entirely to world première recordings of his own music, it is easy to see the silence/sound dichotomy to which Small is attracted... this (+++) CD is a fair introduction to the composer/pianist’s thinking in recent years and in particular to his interest in having his works encompass large themes, including that of silence, within musical structures that verge on the miniature.”
InfoDad.com [May 2014]

Haskell Small Performs A GLIMPSE OF SILENCE (YouTube)

Music is the space between the notes.
Claude Debussy
I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing, and stretching one’s arms; again transcendental experiences became possible.
Mark Rothko
Go uses the most elemental materials and concepts — line and circle, wood and stone, black and white — combining them with simple rules to generate subtle strategies and complex tactics that stagger the imagination.
Iwamoto Kaoru, 9-dan professional Go player and former Honinbo title holder

Meditations on silence and space are as structurally important to the creative life of Haskell Small as are the grids on his beloved Go board. And, just as with that ancient and revered “game” (using that word advisedly), vast complexity arises. The natural progression that flowed from Small’s relationship with the Phillips Collection—one that bore fruit with the solo piano work “Renoir’s Feast,” commissioned by the Collection to celebrate their great centerpiece painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”—allowed substantial exposure to the Phillips’ incomparable Rothko room. The four works bought from the artist mostly in the ‘50s struck the fancy of the wonderful collector Duncan Phillips, who said of these pieces (and the artist in general), “What we recall are not memories, but old emotions disturbed or resolved—some sense of well being suddenly shadowed by a cloud—yellow ochres strangely suffused with a drift of gray prevailing over an ambience of rose or the fire diminishing into a glow of embers, or the light when the night descends.”

Curiously, it was not these particular works that struck our composer’s fancy initially. While in London in 2008, he came upon the Tate Modern’s wildly popular Rothko exhibit, the one that positioned many of the Red series in a single room. We should note that the following year, John Logan’s magic play about Rothko, “Red,” premiered in London, and in 2010 it won the Tony Award for best play of the year when it came to New York.

What Haskell Small called the “animation and passion” of these works he saw in London, enriched by the theatrical experience, led to the primary composition we hear on this recording.

One other evolutionary note: during the years leading up to the Tate visit, Small had been mastering the complex meditation on the spirituality of silence by Federico Mompou entitled “Musica Callada” (MSR CD MS1282), which he also performed in one of his regular concerts at the Phillips.

HASKELL SMALL is an accomplished pianist and composer, who often performs his own works. He has received commissions from such organizations as the Washington Ballet, Three Rivers Piano Competition, Georgetown Symphony and Paul Hill Chorale, and he was the winner of the 1999 Marin Ballet Dance Score Competition. From 2000 to 2003, Small was composer-in-residence with the Mount Vernon Orchestra. In 2005, he completed Renoir’s Feast, a commission by the Phillips Collection to celebrate the return of their beloved painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Recently published by PeerMusic, Renoir’s Feast paired with his Lullaby of War, a work commissioned and premiered by noted pianist Soheil Nasseri, are featured in a new  recording on Naxos.

Small has recorded and released a number of CDs of his own chamber and solo music, as well as of Federico Mompou’s Musica Callada (declared “A Golden Silence” by the Washington Post), a Gershwin disc, and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He is currently preparing a recording of J.S. Bach’s Partitas and also a disc of piano music by Alan Hovhaness, inspired by the spirituality of mountains.

In recent seasons, Small has played recitals in London, Paris and in Japan; participated in the 2007 Festival of American Music in Poland and the 2010 American Music Festival in Iceland; as well as premiering The Rothko Room: Journeys in Silence at the Phillips Collection in 2011.

In Fall 2013, Small toured the United States with his “Journeys in Silence” program, performing Musica Callada in churches and monasteries in New York, California and Washington state. He also performed in Istanbul his arrangement for six pianists at one piano of V. Monti’s Czardas, first performed by Small with eleven colleagues from the Washington Conservatory of Music for the 2013 TEDMED conference in Washington’s Kennedy Center. A YouTube video of this performance has nearly reached one million views. Small continued his “Journeys in Silence” tour in early 2014 with performances of The Rothko Room in museums around the country, as well as in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Haskell Small received his musical training at the San Francisco Conservatory and Carnegie-Mellon University, and has studied piano with Leon Fleisher, William Masselos, Harry Franklin and Jeanne Behrend. He studied composition with Roland Leich and Vincent Persichetti, and is the Piano Department Chair of the Washington Conservatory of Music.

[ www.haskellsmall.com ]




A Long Time Ago
Playing Rough
A Little Story
Feeling Lonely
School’s Out!
Haunted House
Look at Me!
Roller Coaster


MSR Classics