Review: Haskell Small Performs His Celebration of Healing Concert in Epiphany Center’s Golden Hour Series

In 2021 pianist and composer Haskell Small had a stroke that debilitated the left side of his body. From the beginning of his convalescence, Small was determined not to allow his new physical limitations to end his career. With determination and hard work, he turned his healing process into a way to revitalize his abilities. The result was on display Thursday evening at the Epiphany Center where Small brought his Celebration of Healing concert tour.

This event was special for many reasons. First, Epiphany Center has created a large performance space where music of all kinds can be performed in an informal way. Haskell Small’s appearance was part of Epiphany’s Golden Hour series that takes place on Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 8pm. During Golden Hour, patrons can congregate, drink, eat from a light menu, and enjoy live entertainment for free. Seating in the concert hall is at tables.

For classical music, it knocks down many barriers between the audience and performers that have accumulated over hundreds of years of performance practice. At an Epiphany Center performance, one can come and go as they please. Food and drinks are served during the performance. Audience members can engage with the performers; they can also do other activities besides paying strict attention to the music making.

Haskell Small. Photo by Sarah Small.

Second, this was not just a performance, but an event where Small filled three hours with three distinct activities. He started with a detailed discussion of the work he was about to play, Ludwig van Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C-major, op. 120. This was not a quick explanation of the Diabelli Variations but a full academic discussion of the theme and each variation. After discussing a variation, Small started to play through it to demonstrate his observation.

For me, this was especially wonderful because it is only within the past six months that I have gotten to know the Diabelli Variations. One of the things I love about classical music is the depth of its repertoire. There is plenty of great music that I have yet to experience, even by composers whose output I know extremely well. Learning more about this large-scale piano work from Beethoven’s late period was an absolute treat.

That Small chose and successfully performed one of Beethoven’s most demanding piano compositions is nothing short of astounding. In addition to its technical difficulty, it is long, well over 70 minutes. Performances of this work require great strength and endurance from the performer.

Between discussing and playing the piece, Small took a short break. The performance soon started, and it demonstrated that, whatever limitations he had experienced during his stroke, his recovery is very much real. He still exhibits obvious ill effects. Although walking unassisted, Small has a heavy limp in his stride. Regardless of his physical challenges, he can sure the play the piano wonderfully with both hands.

While not perfect, there were many insightful moments in this performance. Small was able to recreate the aural diversity demanded in the score, playing the softer and slower variations with passion and the boisterous variations with rousing aplomb. There were lots of mistakes, and not just from the left hand. That said, on the whole, it was an enjoyable performance.

Following another break, the evening ended with Small playing various improvisations until time expired. it was a great and innovative way to experience classical music. This die-hard classical music aficionado learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely.

For information about Haskell Small click here. His experience recovering from the stroke will be told in a soon-to-be-released documentary Small Steps by Christopher McGuinness.

The Epiphany Center offers a wide range of musical experiences. Tonight’s Golden Hour has a performance by Paige and the Kizers Acoustic, a duo spin-off of the pop/rock band of the same name. 201 S. Ashland, 5-8pm, free. For more information, click here.

Louis Harris
Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.