Paul Haas says the compositions featured in SoNA's season opening concert Sept. 23 are "maximally romantic," in distinct but complementary ways.
"There's an explosion of teen romance with Tony and Maria's love story in 'West Side Story,' and Rachmaninov's Second Symphony is a completely different kind of romanticism -- a celebration of life through music that is just packed full of emotion and heart," explains the music director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas.
"Coincidentally, Leonard Bernstein [1918-1990] and Sergei Rachmaninov [1873-1943] were both conductors, composers, and pianists who both lived in New York City. So there's that as well."
And bringing that kind of diversity of time, place and style together makes sense coming from arguably the most eclectic man you know.
"I've had a great summer, with activities ranging from the musical -- conducting at Tanglewood for two weeks at the beginning of August -- to the far-out-there stuff you've come to expect from me -- catching bee swarms, teaching my kids how to make rope from grasses, etc.," Haas says when asked what he's been doing lately. "It's been a fun ride, and I'm excited to get back into the saddle for SoNA's 'Great Romantics' concert."
The concert is the beginning of an equally eclectic year.
"We have an incredible lineup of 'the best pieces you've never heard' this season, alongside more famous 'warhorses,'" Haas says with his trademark enthusiasm. "My hope is that our audiences embrace the Dawson and the Farrenc -- some of my new favorite works -- with the same enthusiasm and pleasure they've exhibited in recent seasons whenever we bring out something exciting and unfamiliar.
"There's an electricity in the air! There's magic in the interaction between the orchestra and audience when we're exploring new ground together. I can't wait!"
The Negro Folk Symphony by William Dawson is on the program for Jan. 20, along with Barber's Symphony No. 1 and the world premiere of Aldo López-Gavilán's Piano Concerto with guest pianist Lara Downes. Symphony No. 3 by French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) will be paired with Darius Milhaud's Le boeuf sur le toît and Max Bruch's Violin Concerto in G Minor with Winona Fifield, SoNA concertmaster, for "Defying Expectations" Feb. 17.
"I'm always on the lookout for incredible new music," Haas says about the 2023-24 season. "And by that I mean either music that was written recently or music I just wasn't aware of previously, even if it was written decades -- or centuries! -- ago. I add all of my discoveries into a giant pot, and that's a primary source for me as I approach a new season."
Even a composer whose name is highly revered now might not always have been so, Haas points out.
"Rachmaninov's first symphony had a disastrous premiere -- badly rehearsed and with a famous though inept conductor -- and the composer entered a period of severe depression shortly thereafter," he explains. "It was only after four years and a successful course of psychotherapy that he re-emerged from the depths of his despair, ready to embrace life and composing again."
His Second Symphony, written in 1906, has been described as "a marvel of melodic freshness and brilliant instrumentation" by the Classical Critic's Notebook.
"This emotional program is a wonderful way to commence the season and showcase our orchestra's expressive power," Haas says of the opening performance. "While it's hard to single out a particular instrument for this concert, the clarinet solo in the third movement of the Rachmaninov is one of the most famous passages ever written for that instrument.
"With great orchestral music, every single instrument onstage plays a vital part, and we're so fortunate to have SoNA's enviable roster of musicians for each and every concert."
WHEN -- 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23
WHERE -- Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST -- $36, $48 or $61
INFO -- sonamusic.org o4 443-5600
BONUS -- Ticketholders to "Great Romantics" are also invited to come early at 6:30 p.m. for a pre-show Creative Conversation with Haas.