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Concert Grand–Dinnerstein Launches New Album
by Sherri Rase     |      Bookmark and Share
photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco/SONY
Simone Dinnerstein
Simone Dinnerstein launched her latest release, “Something Almost Being Said.” just a few days ago–on January 30 in Europe and January 31 here in the US. Already she’s touring in support of it and the Miller Theatre rang with brilliance on February 2.
If you’ve never been to the Miller Theatre before, it began life as a lecture hall for Columbia University, according to Melissa Smey, the Miller’s executive director. Primarily producing music, the wide aspect of the theatre is well adapted to live performance of dance, music and recitation. The seats are all great, and sitting where we were it was more than close enough for the nuanced acoustic sound of the piano to resonate as if we were hearing a friend playing in her living room rather than a concert performance of a world class artist.
Before the concert, as last minute patrons arrived, there was pre-concert music–Judy Collins singing Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Catching words here and there while the other noises in the hall competed for prominence, it seemed a nice change to the usual silence. Then, a bit after 8 p.m., a hush descended. The piano sat silently waiting when Melissa Smey brought Simone Dinnerstein, luminous in a diaphanous dark red dress over a purple satin skirt, to the stage,. Acknowledging the audience she then sat at the piano, adjusted the height then she tucked her long brown hair back and began.
The theme of her album, “Something Almost Being Said,” has been described as a conversation and Ms. Dinnerstein said that, in selecting this program, these pieces spoke to her as songs without words. This is expertly crafted program had much to say of its own.
Many years ago, a friend who was studying science also had a gift for piano. While his playing was technically brilliant and extremely accurate, it was just that–the strict sounding of the two dimensional notes on the paper. Ms. Dinnerstein’s gift transcends this to an evocative physicality that shows the shape of phrases in more than three dimensions–you get a sense of the roundness of the phrases even as the music moves forward in time. Ms. Dinnerstein wears her heart on her sleeve and we plainly see her passion in her facial as well as her manual expression as well as her reflection in the mirror-like open underside of the concert grand piano.
The concert began with Frederic Chopin’s “Nocturne in D-flat Major, Opus 27, Number Two.” The vocal quality of Chopin in this piece was uniquely suited to the Miller’s intimacy. Chopin, according to the enlightening program notes, was apt to ply his trade in smaller salons rather than large concert venues and this selection was perfect to quiet the City mind and bring us into this world of music. During the course of this piece, the sky blue background of the stage changed to reveal silhouettes of trees. This highlighted the organic nature of the concert–voices rising in music as if dictated by Nature herself.
Daniel Felsenfeld is a young composer of contemporary classical music whose conversation with Ms. Dinnerstein about favorite songs yielded the next piece–“The Cohen Variations.” This brilliant work takes as its source melody …. drum roll please … “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. Mr. Felsenfeld composed the piece expressly for Ms. Dinnerstein as “a love letter to her capacities.” Translating a song that has words to one that does not gives the ghost of the words different variations, as the permutations weave their way around the melody. This was refreshing!
“Intermezzo in A Major, Opus 118, Number Two,” by Johannes Brahms, has a contemplative quality that moves through consecutive modulations as our thoughts move from point to point–one slight variation leading to the next, then building and straining for understanding, then resolving. Ms. Dinnerstein’s piano keys must not be flat like yours and mine. She bends the notes and timing to her will and there are such fine gradations of pressure and accent that rather than striking the keys, this Orpheus draws the music from them. This piece smoothly set up J. S. Bach’s Partita Number Two in C minor, BWV 826, and we were off on a dazzling experience that felt like a formal meeting and then a lazy rainy day as fingers lingered, then chased one another–separate voices very clearly sounded in pas de duet. Worth noting is that Ms. Dinnerstein played the entire program from memory and held the audience in her hands, leading us from Chopin through Cohen/Felsenfeld through Brahms with no applause. Leading us aurally through this philosophical conversation, pausing for applausing and a bit of conversation aloud, as she discussed the work, she welcomed Mr. Felsenfeld to the stage for kudos before acknowledging her own. She has great presence and when she was teaching piano you can well imagine her popularity with students. She is serene and grounded and you’d naturally want to do your best for her, as did we in the audience. The purest proof came in the form of the poor benighted soul whose cellphone added “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to the concert between the Allemande and the Courante–while the audience was furious and the poor person embarrassed beyond measure, Ms. Dinnerstein paused with the patience of Job, then graciously started the Courante. By the time we got to the delicate Rondeau, and then the aptly named Capriccio, we had much to consider during intermission.
In Act Two, immediately prior to playing Schumann’s “Kinderszenen,” Ms. Dinnerstein told us the story of how she came to know the piece. While many of the selections are straightforward, these pieces are not for children to play, but are, rather, the bittersweet recollections of an adult about childhood. As a child, Ms. Dinnerstein had seen a film in which one of the selections had appeared and asked her teacher whether she could learn it. Her teacher allowed that she could, as long as she learned the all of the others. What a challenge, and what a result! When these pieces are played, Ms. Dinnerstein takes them at a different tempo than the one that we may be accustomed to hearing, but the result is greater energy and a kinetic sense of the remembered child as coiled spring, ready for action and during the penultimate piece, tuckered out and needing to recharge.
Ms. Dinnerstein shapes the phrases of Schumann and Bach, in this pairing, as she had Schumann’s protégé, Brahms, and Bach in the end of Act 1. I felt the phrases–saw them painted, heard them sung, as I have not before. In “Kinderszenen,” Ms. Dinnerstein leaned into the keys–applying pressure, cajoling, convincing the notes and keys to do her bidding, as if it is their own idea.
The final piece was the J.S. Bach Partita Number One in B-flat Major, BWV 25, and it was especially in this piece that technique and phrasing reached the pinnacle. I found the Corrente, the third movement, to be particularly masterful and Ms. Dinnerstein showed a wry half smile while performing–almost as if to say “ … just wait to hear what I’ve got for you!” The final movement, the Gigue, was pure delight with the tintinnabulating notes trickling like water as if Bach were foretelling Smetana’s “Vltava” (Moldau) from a Teutonic perspective.
Do you enjoy new music? Make sure to bookmark www.MillerTheatre.com , as the programming has been phenomenal this year and the venue is sublime. Simone Dinnerstein’s latest release is available on Amazon and anywhere Sony Classical CDs are sold. Check out her website as well at www.SimoneDinnerstein.com where you’ll find videos, her touring schedule and more. Live music lives in four dimensions–be a part of it.


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