Five Minutes, Five Questions: Paul Haas promises joy at SoNA finale

Five Minutes, Five Questions: Paul Haas promises joy at SoNA finale

“The spirit of the work truly is an ‘ode to joy’ and will leave listeners feeling uplifted, connected, and awed by the ability for music to highlight the best aspects of our shared humanity.”

Symphony of Northwest Arkansas Music Director Paul Haas will conduct SoNA’s Season 2023-24 finale, “Ode to Joy: Beethoven’s Ninth,” at 7:30 p.m. April 6 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

Haas answered five questions for What’s Up!

Q. Do you remember the first time Beethoven came into your world? What music was it? And why did it capture your imagination?

A. I feel like Beethoven has always been in my life. I can’t remember a first time I heard his music, but I suppose I started to realize just how profoundly it moved me when I was in college. I remember entire days of being holed up in my dorm room, lying rapt on my bed, listening non-stop to every single one of his symphonies. If I weren’t so busy, I’d probably still be doing it!

Q. Seems like there’s always “joy” around SoNA! Why this piece of music now?

A. I really do feel blessed to be able to lead this extraordinary group of musicians, to be a part of this SoNA extended family. There’s something truly special about our concerts that goes far beyond what you might expect. The orchestra gives so much to our audience, of course, but the audience gives it right back! There’s an energy and an intensity from that interaction that has to be experienced to be believed.

Performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is thrilling as a musician, and I know it’s equally thrilling as an audience member.

So why this piece? I think it sums up my feelings about this orchestra and this audience, about the great bond we share. That we are all in this together, to help, and nourish, and inspire each other as brothers and sisters. And — in addition — it calls us to look beyond ourselves, beyond our immediate friends and family, to enlarge our view of what that family could be, daring us to encompass the entire human race in our embrace.

It’s a huge piece, a beautiful piece, and it’s an invitation to be much more than we ever imagined we could be.

Q. I’m sure not all maestros think voices belong with a symphony orchestra. Why do you include them once or twice a year?

A. I grew up as a singer, and I’ve always had a soft spot for choral music. The SoNA Singers are incredible, and they’ve grown into an extremely fine vocal ensemble under Terry Hicks’ leadership. They allow us to perform some of the greatest music ever written, and I honestly couldn’t imagine SoNA without them. They’re an integral part of what makes this organization so strong artistically. Can you imagine a world where SoNA literally could not perform Beethoven 9 because we didn’t have the chorus? I can’t. And luckily, I don’t have to!

Q. This is the last concert of the season. What happens now behind the scenes for SoNA? And when will we see you again?

A. I’ll be back in May for the SoNA Gala, and then again in June for our Crystal Bridges collaboration, and then we get to perform on July 4 at the Walmart AMP! Never a dull moment…

Q. What will you remember most about this year?

A. If I had to pick a single moment, it would be our performance of William Dawson’s masterful “Negro Folk Symphony.” This is a 1930s piece by a black composer that was literally forgotten, unplayed, until very recently, and we had the privilege to be one of the first orchestras to perform it. I still have chills thinking about it. I was personally so moved in the performance, and the feeling in the hall was just electric.




‘Ode to Joy: Beethoven’s Ninth’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 6

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $36, $48, $61

INFO —, 443-5600

Categories: Music