Miller Theatre in late Autumn is a magical place. Immediately adjacent to the Columbia University campus, there is an avenue of illuminated trees that gives a special atmosphere all year ’round, but especially now at the Holidays. And what could be better than An Evening with Simone Dinnerstein? While Alexander encountered the Gordian Knot and severed it with a single blow of his sword, Dinnerstein guides us through the spiral wonder of these pieces with a golden thread that unites them all.
When we were able to access the theatre, on December 8, we found the piano was at the very edge of the stage, surrounded by candles. The lighting was very mellow and when Dinnerstein took the stage, she was clearly playing to a hometown audience. The program demonstrated her scholarship as well as her skill.
The most gifted artists have a razor sharp mind, keen with humor and breadth. Beginning with François Couperin, a contemporary of her beloved Bach, the 1717 work “Les Barricades mystérieuses” was the perfect aperitif for the feast to come. There is an illuminating interview in the program where Dinnerstein discussed the selection of the pieces–they all return on themselves. The result shows that what we thought was a new wrinkle that began in 20th century music is actually centuries old!
After Couperin, Dinnerstein treated us to Robert Schumann’s “Arabesque”–full of the passion of a young composer’s love. Schumann wrote it for Clara, whom he thought, at the point that he composed “Arabesque,” he wouldn’t be able to marry. From the lush and beautifully contemplative Schumann, we segue into Philip Glass’ “Mad Rush.” Popular for its alternating mellow and bold passages, it was originally composed for the organ at St. John the Divine. They needed a piece that could continue organically until the Dalai Lama arrived. This piece was beautifully done and the ending is like entropy–it happens organically with the seamless segue into the final Couperin piece of Part One of the program, “Le Tic-Toc-Choc.” It took a moment to change gears and realize that it was a different piece, so beautifully was it executed, with the pièce croiseé with the left and right hands playing two different lines, which Dinnerstein likens to playing a marimba. Seated where we could see her hands gamboling over the keyboard, this was particularly impressive. Imagine playing two different songs, one with each hand, and you’ll have an idea of the concentration this requires. A bravura piece, this made a dazzling end for Part One.
The recital resumed with Part Two, after so brief a space that it wasn’t even a seventh inning stretch. We hardly had time to catch our collective breath before the wild beauty of Eric Satie’s “Gnossienne” Number Three. Starting with a flavor of Roma music, the mysterious minor key brings to mind the popular “Dark Eyes.” Dark and hinting of wildness, yet very seductive, this music brought us into a different kind of doubling back. Remember, each of these pieces was selected for its spiral nature and the Fibonacci perfection of each piece individually contributes to the golden effect of the whole. The final piece of the program was Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” Opus 16, written for Clara, in which Schumann told her she would find herself. Romantic and gorgeous with glorious glissando, it’s easy to imagine how inspired by Clara’s love he could compose this in just four days.
Be sure to read the program notes, as Lara Pellegrinelli’s brilliant interview with Dinnerstein added insight and depth that made the concert that much more enjoyable. This concert was the whole package and as we went out into the crystalline chill of the December evening, there was much to savor.
for tickets to more of Miller’s season. Now that’s a great Holiday gift–almost everyone has enough stuff–give the gift of an experience that will last a lifetime!