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Tag: Paul Haas


Passionate Brahms, nimble Beethoven, a few surprises and plenty of charm from conductor Paul Haas at the Tacoma Symphony concert

It’s good to be surprised at a symphony concert. Too often we’re given the same old pieces delivered in the same old way – but not Saturday night at the Pantages Theater. Following conductor Paul Haas – the second candidate for the Tacoma Symphony’s musical director position – the orchestra pulled out surprise after surprise, from an unprogrammed piece to lushly unified strings in Brahms’ fourth symphony to Haas’ own debonair, rock band-style introductions.

“I like surprises,” said Haas, by way of introduction as the concert began, after laying on the flattery about Tacoma’s beautiful scenery and people – and then proceeded to show us just what he meant. Instead of the first piece on the program (“Strange Attractors,” by Tacoma native Alexandra Bryant) the audience was instead surrounded by a vaguely medieval, vaguely Vaughan Williams-esque soundscape, with woodwinds calling like birds from the stage, the balcony and the back of the audience. It was a piece by Haas himself, who’s a respected composer and also known for unconventional symphonic programming both in New York, where he’s the founding director of Sympho, and Northwest Arkansas, his other directorship position. The blurring and bending of Monteverdi fragments into a dreamlike whole was, in fact, a smart move: It showed off Haas’ composing chops plus his penchant for focusing on the “energy” of a program, and it also gave a soft, approachable opening to Bryant’s rather more awkward, aloof imagination.

“Strange Attractors” was actually premiered in Tacoma in 2010 by the youth symphony. The playing Saturday night was far more skillful, but the piece still sounds like a newly-fledged compositional grad student testing her wings. The wildness of the fluttery, opening motif soon launched into a Stravinsky-like pizzicato, with ominous Bartok brass. And while the unusually-colored wind solos were subtle and strong, the tuttis lacked good orchestration and sounded, despite the players’ efforts, weak.

Then came Stephanie Leon Shames for Beethoven’s symphony-like Third Piano Concerto. Shames does a lot of collaborative and chamber work, and it shows in her highly sensitive interpretations that fit perfectly in this piece where the orchestra is a whole lot more than just the back-up band. Read more »


Tacoma Symphony plays Brahms, Beethoven and work by young Tacoma-born composer Alexandra Bryant at the Pantages this weekend

Composer Alexandra Bryant. Courtesy photo.
Composer Alexandra Bryant. Courtesy photo.

You may have heard of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but this Saturday night it’s Brahms, Beethoven and Bryant – Alexandra Bryant, that is, a young Tacoma-born composer whose work “Strange Attractors” is getting a professional performance thanks to the Tacoma Symphony. The Pantages concert will be led by Paul Haas, the second of four candidates auditioning for the position of musical director, and will also feature Stephanie Leon Shames playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3, as well as the Brahms Fourth  Symphony.

To be headlining two of the other great “B” composers is an honor, but it’s one Bryant deserves. Daughter of TSO violinist Andrea Bryant and a good violinist in her own right, Bryant grew up in Tacoma leading the UPS and Tacoma Youth symphonies. She went on to study composition at the Cleveland Institute and Rice University, and is currently finishing up her Ph.D. in composition at the University of Maryland. Her review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “a promising young composer” was picked up by TSO director Harvey Felder, who’d also been told by various orchestra members that he should listen to her work. Bryant’s “Strange Attractors” had in fact been premiered by the Tacoma Youth Orchestra in 2010, and it was this that Felder chose for Saturday’s “See Change II” concert, following a mission in this season to offer new works that had only one or two previous performances.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” said Bryant, who’ll be in town this week to work with Haas on the piece (and visit family, of course). “It’s a good feeling that what you’re doing is considered worth hearing.”

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