Harmony Of Titans: ‘Phoenix Ascending’ for Haas, Schmidt

Harmony Of Titans: ‘Phoenix Ascending’ for Haas, Schmidt

If you read about the lives of pianist/composer Heather Schmidt and Paul Haas, music director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, you might wonder how they ever found time to perform together.

Haas, as his fans in Northwest Arkansas know, helms not only SoNA but Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra in Canada and conducts as a guest orchestras across the country, composes, creates as an installation artist and is living the back-to-the-land life in upstate New York with his musician wife and their children — “you know, the usual: chickens, trees, meditating, ice skating, hanging out with my incredible family.”

He’s also in the middle of launching “Audition Mastery,” which he says he designed with David Krauss (principal trumpet, Met Opera Orchestra) “to be the gold standard online training for orchestral musicians who want to win a job, get into a great school, or simply play better under pressure.”

“My main goal is to inspire,” says Heather Schmidt. “For the duration of the performance, I hope the audience will be able to transcend into the world of the music. Although the concerto evokes the story of the phoenix, I always encourage audience members to let the music take them on whatever journey inspires them personally.” (Courtesy Photo)

Schmidt’s schedule, however, makes Haas’ look tame by comparison. According to her biography, she began studies in piano at the age of 4 and composition at the age of 5. She pursued double majors in piano performance and composition throughout her musical education, studying at Juilliard in New York City and at Indiana University, where, at age 21, she became the youngest student to receive a Doctor of Music degree. In addition to her solo recitals, she regularly performs as a guest soloist with orchestras. She’s also a composer for film, television and video games, including “Empire of the Sharks” for SyFy channel, “Jurassic School” for Netflix, “Break-Up Nightmare” for Lifetime TV, “Elvis Lives” for AXS TV, the independent comedy feature “How to Get Rid of a Body and Still Be Friends,” and the video game “Homesick.” Oh, and she’s written and directed four short films.

Schmidt and Haas met when he programmed one of her concertos, “Phoenix Ascending,” with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra a few years back. “We instantly hit it off,” he says. “She’s a wonderful pianist, a fantastic composer, and a great collaborator.

“The audience went completely nuts after her performance, with a huge standing ovation, and it was due to both her performance on the piano and the power of the piece itself,” he remembers. “After that, how could I not bring her to Northwest Arkansas? It was, as they say, a done deal.”

“I have always loved the mythology of the phoenix,” Schmidt says about her composition. “At the time I wrote the music, there was also a personal story that was relevant. The piece is dedicated to my former composition teacher Allan Bell, who I studied with from ages 14 through 17. At the time I wrote the piece, he had been near death, and then was given a second chance at life with a liver transplant. So the death and rebirth of the phoenix was inspired by both this personal connection and also my general fascination with the phoenix.

“I have so far composed six piano concertos, and I would say that No. 4 is probably my favorite.”




‘Phoenix Ascending’

WHAT — Heather Schmidt’s Piano Concerto No. 4 plus Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Marquez’s Danzon No. 2

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $35-$57

INFO — sonamusic.org



Three Minutes, Three Questions

Heather Schmidt

Q. Having read your bio, it seems it might be easier to ask you what you DON’T do! Is piano your first love and composing your second? What comes in third and fourth and fifth?

A. I have a lot of first loves! I would say that piano and composing are tied pretty much equally. I absolutely love performing on stage, and I also love the process of creating a brand new piece of music. The other top creative loves in my life right now are writing and filmmaking. Also at the top of my list are animals. I have a lot of my own pets, all rescues — five dogs, many cats, two horses, two pigeons and some fish! I also founded and oversee two nonprofit dog rescues, Hollywood Huskies in Los Angeles and Halo Husky Haven in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta. So far, we’ve rescued and adopted 1,200 dogs!

Q. What inspired you as a child that put you at a piano at the age of 4?

A. I actually come from a completely non-musical family of optometrists and farmers. My brother is a mechanical engineer. When I was pre-school age, there were no other kids in the neighborhood, and my mom signed me up for group piano lessons as a social activity. I started the group piano lessons a couple weeks after I turned 4 years old, and the plan was I would take these group piano lessons just for a year until I started kindergarten. But I absolutely loved it right from the beginning, and I was both playing piano and composing within that first year of lessons. Much to my family’s surprise, I announced at age 4 that I was going to be a pianist and composer, and that’s what I ended up doing!

Q. What’s next for you?

A. Covid has definitely changed the music world significantly. I have a variety of music projects temporarily on hold. In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of writing and working on some more film projects. I’m also excited to share that I’m developing an online piano academy where adults can learn to play piano. There are series of books and videos that can be used in regular piano lessons with a teacher, but the books and videos are designed so they can also be used by individuals who want to learn to play piano on their own. The beginner level materials are already available, and I’m currently developing the advanced beginner and intermediate level courses. The resources are available at www.schoolofthesky.com.

Categories: Music