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Haskell's performing career took off in the mid Seventies : 'I guess it was around 1974 or 5. I was very fortunate, my winning that Pittsburgh Concerts Society prize involved my giving a recital there; things built from that point. Eventually I moved back to Washington and gave a debut recital at the National Gallery. That was also when I began to compose; the two careers have gone more or less hand in hand since then.'

How does Small cope with the out-of-a-suitcase, hotel-room existence of a recitalist? 'Fortunately these days I don't do it so much that it gets to me. I wouldn't want to perform round the clock all the time. But when I do travel, on the whole I like it. I actually enjoy the type of enforced "down time" it imposes on me between concerts. I value a time when I don't have the ability to just kill myself working, I can sit on a train or whatever. It provides a chance to think, and read. I love to read now much more than I did as a kid, when I had to. (Whose writing do I enjoy most? Well I guess you could say Twain is in there, just because of the wit -- I've certainly got a funny bone in me somewhere!)'

Small has two agents, one of whom (Jeffrey James Arts Consulting) handles especially his composing work and the other (Jane Music Management) focusses on his piano appearances. 'And the two kind of meet somewhere in the middle! Some invitations just float my way, others I have to dig for! The fact that I play my own things (not just my piano compositions, but the piano part in many of my own chamber works) is a help; at least I can state that everything I've written has had at least a performance, if not several, which a lot of composers can't!'

Among those countries Small most enjoyed performing in was China. 'I gave recitals in Beijing, Tientsin and Huangzhou, under a sort of sister cities arrangement set up by my agent at that time. And it was fascinating. I played a Mozart Sonata, Schumann Arabesques, the first movement of my transcription for solo piano of Gershwin's Concerto in F (which I couldn't resist throwing at them!), and the Mussorgsky Pictures, which I thought was kind of standard, but would also be an inviting experience for them. The Chinese were a really very bright, very responsive audience.'

With a large repertoire of works old and new, how does Small cope with memory? 'Well I do have nightmares about losing myself! On those days you feel you're not all there, your mind is tempted to wander, it's hard to keep focusing. I don't know how I cope, but obviously I do OK : I perform to memory almost entirely, I feel much more comfortable playing by memory than from the printed page. I think that's the main leftover from my early background -- jazz especially -- in that I relied on my ear for so long that I never developed the distinctive eye-contact which good readers have. I work on that aspect too, I try to improve it as much as I can, but that's not my forte.'

'I do force myself to do runthroughs in my house with close friends where I work out some of the bugs. You can never tell. It's puzzling, there are times when I feel really comfortable and on top of things and none of them go well; and other times when no matter what the preparation -- things really take off : although I preach to my students [Small is a member of staff at the Washington Conservatoire] that preparation is the secret, it's actually only one element.

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Copyright © 26 May 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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