Virtuoso timpanist Jonathan Haas has raised the status of the timpani to that of a solo instrument throughout his unique career that has spanned more than twenty-five years. From classical concertos to jazz and rock & roll, from symphonic masterpieces to the most experimental compositions of living composers, Haas has championed, commissioned, unearthed and celebrated music for his instrument, becoming, as Ovation magazine hailed him, "The Paganini of the timpani."
His concerts on the world's most prestigious musical stages and his ground-breaking recordings have delighted critics and listeners on both sides of the ocean. The New York Times wrote, "Wherever one finds a percussion instrument waiting to be rubbed, shook, struck or strummed, [Haas] is probably nearby, ready to fulfill his duties with consummate expertise ... he is a masterful percussionist." He has been profiled and reviewed over the years in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Sydney Morning Herald, Jerusalem Post, NewarkStar Ledger, and many other newspapers and magazines as well as on radio and television. He was featured on NPR's Fresh AirDial-A-Musician, which introduced him as "The only solo virtuoso timpanist around, the superstar of the timpani." and on Classical Public Radio Network's Dial-A-Musician, which introduced him as "The only solo virtuoso timpanist around, the superstar of the timpani."
Haas has garnered widespread praise and attention for his performances of Philip Glass' Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, a piece conceived by Haas and completed because of his quest to spotlight the timpani. The Concerto Fantasy features not only two timpanists, but also 14 timpani, all placed downstage in front of the orchestra. In 2000, Haas performed the world premiere of the piece with the American Symphony, and he has subsequently performed it at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony (James Conlon, conductor) and with the Seattle Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Naples Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Long Beach (California) Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony and Mexico City's Orquesta Filarmonica de la Ciudad de Mexico. He performed the European premiere with the BBC Symphony in London, the French premiere with the Orchestre National de France, the Czechoslovakian premiere with the Prague Symphony Orchestra at the International Music Prague Spring Festival, the Norwegian premiere with the Bergen Philharmonic, the Australian premiere with the Sydney Symphony, the Turkish premiere with the Istanbul Philharmonic, and the Croatian premiere with the Croatian Radio Television Symphony Orchestra. The world premiere of a chamber orchestra version was presented with the Iris Chamber Orchestra in Memphis, and the world premiere of a wind ensemble version was performed in Baltimore at the Peabody Conservatory and subsequently at the University of Arizona. Glass' Orange Mountain Music label has released the Concerto Fantasy on its Concerto Project Vol. I CD featuring Haas and Evelyn Glennie as soloists.
Demonstrating a remarkable versatility as a musician, Haas has performed and recorded with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, played on the Grammy Award-winning recording Zappa's Universe, recorded with Aerosmith, Michael Bolton, Black Sabbath, and explored heavy metal with his rock group Clozshave.
Haas' successful efforts to expand the timpani repertoire have led him to commission and premiere more than 25 works by composers in addition to Philip Glass such as Stephen Albert, Marius Constant, Irwin Bazelon, Eric Ewazen, Thomas Hamilton, Robert Hall Lewis, Jean Piche, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Andrew Thomas, and many others.
Haas' recordings -- in addition to the Glass timpani concerto -- include the trail-blazing 18th Century Concertos for Timpani and Orchestra and Johnny H. and the Prisoners of Swing, both on Sunset Records. The latter was named for his jazz group and features innovative renderings of jazz compositions featuring "hot timpani" in front of a full jazz ensemble. His rediscovery of Duke Ellington's brilliant composition for jazz timpani, "Tympaturbably Blue," is included on this recording, as are other jazz standards played on a set of ten kettledrums.
Ever the innovator, Haas attracted plaudits when he built the world's largest timpani, which is nearly 6' wide, nearly 4' tall, and 70 inches in diameter, almost twice the size of the world's second-largest timpani (a 48-incher used by Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra). Haas discovered the kettle in an Aspen cow pasture. It had originally been used to manufacture Swiss cheese at the turn of the century and, remarkably, matched the exact size specifications of a timpani. Haas debuted a prototype of this unprecedented, incredible instrument at the 2003 Aspen Music Festival, and it made its official premiere at the Percussive Arts Society's annual convention later that year.
Haas also invented a process to improve the performance of crash cymbals that was developed into a new instrument called "The Master Series Anti-Lock Cymbal" produced by Zildjian, the largest manufacturer of cymbals in the world.
Haas is also on a mission to assemble a collection of the world's biggest and tallest percussion instruments, including a 300-year-old 9' tall drum from the Philippines and 400 other instruments. It's an extraordinary, eclectic group that includes pieces that no Westerners have seen outside their countries of origin.
The rarest of modern virtuosi, Haas embarked on his career as a solo timpanist by performing the only solo timpani recital ever presented at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1980. As an orchestral soloist, he made his debut with the New York Chamber Orchestra under Maxim Shostakovich and his European solo debut with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. He made his French debut performing Andrez Panufnick's Concerto for Percussion, Timpani and Orchestra with the Orchestra de la Garde Republicaine. He was the soloist in the Druschetsky Concerto for Eight Timpani, Oboe and Orchestra with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra. He has championed new music by presenting adventuresome programming such as The Music of Frank Zappa, showcasing the music of Edgar Varese and Frank Zappa, under the auspices of Lincoln Center's Great Performers Series.
Haas is the principal timpanist of the Aspen Chamber Orchestra and principal percussionist of the American Symphony Orchestra, as well as a member of the American Composers Orchestra. He performs with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, New York Pops, and New Jersey Symphony and has performed and recorded with virtually every other New York-area performing arts organization.
A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Haas received his Master's Degree from the Juilliard School as a student of Saul Goodman.
An inspiring teacher, Haas is director of New York University's Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions' Percussion Studies Department, chair of the Juilliard Pre-College Percussion Department and a faculty artist at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he has taught for the last 22 years. Haas is the conductor and artistic director of the percussion ensemble programs at all three institutions and is the creator of one of the most innovative percussion intensives, hosting an NYU Broadway Percussion Seminar/Summit each year in June. At NYU he introduced a first-of-its-kind program that includes in-depth theatrical percussion studies, the first modern-day Timpani Guild and an innovative classical percussion program. He also established the first steel drum ensemble program at a major university/conservatory on the Eastern seaboard. Haas was director of the Peabody Conservatory Percussion Department for 26 years, bringing it into international prominence. He has presented master classes worldwide at the Toho Gauken, Hanoi Conservatory, Paris Conservatory, the Graz Percussion School, the Melbourne Conservatory, the Sydney Conservatory, Conservatory of Latvia, Zagreb Conservatory and many others. Haas is frequently featured as a soloist and clinician at Percussive Arts Society International Conventions and writes extensively for educational journals including The Instrumentalist and Percussive Notes, the official journal of the Percussive Arts Society.
As active an entrepreneur as he is an artist, Haas heads Sunset Records, Kettles and Company, and Gemini Music Productions, which contracts musicians for Lincoln Center, New York Pops, and many other organizations. He also works closely with percussion industry manufacturers Promark, Yamaha, Zildjian and Remo. Jonathan Haas is a Yamaha Performing Artist.