Music of peace, from pianists Haskell Small and Sarah Cahill
by Joseph Dalton
Times Union
October 13, 2013

Music is often a reflection of the era in which it is made. In our own loud and fast times, the volume and speed of new compositions keep getting more and more amped up.

But sometimes composers and musicians go in the opposite direction, seeking an antidote to the times. These days that means something soft spoken and relaxed. Pianist Haskell Small will be performing just such a concert at the New Skete Monastery in Cambridge on Saturday evening.

The one piece on the program is “Musica Callada,” an hour-long work in 28 short movements that was written by Federico Mompou, a Spanish composer who died in 1987 at age 94.

“It’s mostly slow, sometimes very slow, sometimes extremely quiet, right on the edge of audibility, and very spacious with a ting of the mystical,” explains Small, who recently recorded the piece for MSR Classics.

“Musica Callada” is divided in four books, or large sections, which were composed between 1959 and 1974. The title is roughly translated as “Silent Music” or “Quiet Music” and the composer was influenced by the spiritual writings of St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic.

“The language is astringent and dissonant, but because it’s driven by melody, you hear all the lines. Mompou was more of a traditionalist than a groundbreaker,” says Small, who lives in Washington, DC, and is in the midst of a national tour, taking the program to 20 different venues, mostly churches, along the east coast and in California.

It’s worth noting that Small is a wide ranging musician with a discography that ranges from Bach to Gershwin. But he does have a daily meditation practice and describes his current musical pursuit as a “spiritual exercise.”

Faith is not required for listeners though.

“It takes receptivity, and an opening up to the inner world,” says Small. “The music is so extraordinarily beautiful that it will pull you into its message.”

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at New Skeet Monastery, 250 New Skete Lane, Cambridge. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $20.