Pianist Simone Dinnerstein penetrated the big-time concert scene only recently, using as a wedge a self-produced CD of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and a self-produced performance of the piece at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in November, 2005. She is not yet a veteran of the concert stage. Her newness in the performing world may explain why she is so forthcoming about the details of putting on a major concert.
Dinnerstein solos in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Thierry Fischer in a trio of performances. Swiss conductor Fischer is principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and chief conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic. The programs also include Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony,” and Franz Schubert’s “Symphony No. 4 (The “Tragic”). The concerts take place at Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium, Friday, November 28 at 8 p.m.; at New Brunswick’s State Theater on Saturday, November, 29 at 8 p.m.; and at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Sunday, November 30, at 3 p.m.
“Beethoven’s second concerto is not as familiar as his other concertos,” Dinnerstein says in a telephone interview from her home in Brooklyn. “I started working on it this summer after NJSO asked me to play it. It was written before the first piano concerto, and I like it better. It was a real discovery getting ready to play the piece. I’ve fallen in love with it. This concerto has clean lines and transparency. It’s imaginative and foreshadows later works.
“The first movement is so lyrical, and I’m drawn to lyrical pieces,” Dinnerstein says. “It’s a dialogue between piano and orchestra. I think of it as chamber music. The orchestral writing is spare. It has a kind of lightness and clarity, more like Haydn and Mozart than late Beethoven. The second movement contains dissonant elements and interesting markings. The long pedal markings retain harmonies that are already resolved. There’s a strange haze of sound. The third movement has especially wonderful rhythm; it’s syncopated.”
At the time of our interview, three weeks before the concerts, she had not yet rehearsed with the NJSO. “We’ll have a rehearsal before the day of the concert, and then a dress rehearsal the day of the concert. You have to have it all figured out beforehand. Hopefully, you and the conductor will be on the same page. If your styles are different, there’s not much you can do about it. But it’s not just a matter of the conductor. The orchestra, too, has to be listening and responding, thinking of it as chamber music. I don’t think of a concerto as soloist versus orchestra.”
Dinnerstein distinguishes between preparing for a solo recital, and preparing to take part in a concert with an established group, either an orchestra or a chamber ensemble, where rehearsal time is limited. “They’re completely different experiences,” she says. “The basic distinction is between having worked endlessly on your own, and having had one rehearsal with a group. A lot of it is financial. It’s tremendously expensive to pay an orchestra.
“With an orchestra you have to get it together quickly,” she says. “There’s no time to experiment with different ways of playing a piece. It’s the spontaneity of the moment in a concerto performance versus working out the details in advance.
“Partly it’s the difference between being a student and being a professional. At Juilliard four of us worked on the Messiaen ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ for six months. Since then I’ve performed the piece with chamber groups after just one rehearsal. There are pluses and minuses. You have to have quick reflexes, when there’s not much rehearsal time, rather than trying a million different ways of playing the piece.
“Performing with very little rehearsal time reflects a certain kind of thinking about music,” Dinnerstein says. “Maybe, I don’t yet understand how it works musically. It’s a matter of communication, and the more I develop relationships with conductors, the more I will understand how communication works with them.”
At age 36 Dinnerstein is only two years younger than cellist Matt Haimovitz (U.S. 1, November 12, 2008), who performed two concerts at the Institute for Advanced Study earlier this month. However, her name is only now becoming known on the performance circuit, while Haimovitz’s concert career has reached the quarter century mark. Haimovitz, in 1983, at 13, attracted attention when he substituted for his ailing teacher at Carnegie Hall. Dinnerstein, to the contrary, in 2006, at age 33, and by her own efforts, propelled her way towards the performing career she wanted.
“At the time, no record company would have recorded me,” Dinnerstein says. “I was unknown; it would have been a big financial risk. I decided to record the ‘Goldberg Variations’ and to make the best recording I could. I produced the recording, raised the money, and did whole thing myself until I got a master tape. Then I looked for a company that would take that master, put it on their label, and distribute it.” To make the recording Dinnerstein engaged independent record producer Adam Abeshouse.
Word of Dinnerstein’s self-produced CD got around before her self-produced Weill Recital Hall debut in November, 2005, and the concert was sold out. The performance attracted both artistic managers and recording company representatives. Following glowing reviews, Columbia Artists Management added Dinnerstein to their roster (she has since joined IMG), and Telarc took on her CD as their own, releasing it in August, 2007, with no modifications.
“The only thing Telarc did was listen to the CD,” Dinnerstein says. “They liked it, and decided to put it on their label. Telarc had nothing to do with the musical aspects” — a tribute indeed to Abeshouse.
Telarc’s release of Dinnerstein’s “Goldberg Variations” became the number one seller on Billboard’s Classical Chart during its first week of sales, and numerous publications included it among their “Best of 2007” lists. Engaging Abeshouse as record producer after the “Goldberg” release, Telarc recorded Dinnerstein’s recital debut at the Kammermusiksaal of the Philharmonie in Berlin in November, 2007. The recording was released in August, 2008.
Dinnerstein was born in 1972 to an artist father and a mother who is an early childhood educator. An only child, she lived in Rome from age four to age seven while her father was at the American Academy in Rome. Excited by the piano playing in her ballet class in Rome, she aspired to study piano at age five. However the family had no piano. She started piano lessons at age seven, when the family returned to Brooklyn from Rome.
Enrolled in St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, an independent non-sectarian school for the intellectually gifted, Dinnerstein simultaneously attended the pre-college division of New York’s Manhattan School of Music from the age of nine.
Following two years at New York’s Juilliard School, where she studied with Peter Serkin, Dinnerstein worked in London for three years with Maria Curcio, an Artur Schnabel student. She returned to Juilliard to complete her bachelor’s degree.
At age 20, while in London, she married Jeremy Greensmith, a fifth grade teacher at a Brooklyn public school, where the couple’s son, Adrian, soon to be seven, is enrolled. “He’s very musical,” Dinnerstein says about her husband. “He has a great ear, but he’s not a musician.” Jeremy’s twin brother, Clive, is the cellist of the Tokyo String Quartet.
Dinnerstein spent her pregnancy learning the “Goldberg Variations.” “Until then I hadn’t felt mature enough to play them,” she told “International Piano” magazine in its July/August, 2008 issue. She had adoringly listened to Glenn Gould’s second recording of the work (1981) when she was a teenager. “For many years I couldn’t play Bach because I loved how Gould played so much. But I felt something about this piece that I wanted to explore.” She began performing the work after giving birth.
In our conversation, she expands her list of favorite “Goldberg” recordings. “I like the second Gould recording of the ‘Goldberg,’” she says. “I also like Rosalyn Tureck’s recording on piano in the ’80s, the one that she made in William Buckley’s living room. Also the jazz trio version by Jacques Loussier with his improvisations. Then there’s a crazy fantastic recording by Uri Caine with 70 variations using the ‘Goldberg Variations’ as a jumping-off point.”
Tyro Dinnerstein got to the “Goldbergs” before veteran performer Matt Haimovitz recorded the version of the piece that he discussed with U.S. 1 earlier this month. Dinnerstein has not yet heard the Haimovitz “Goldberg” CD, which features violin, viola, and cello. However, she is omniscient enough to inquire whether it is the transcription by Dmitri Sitkovetsky. (It is.) Haimovitz’s smooth all-string version is yet another incarnation of the epic work, worth adding to the many ways in which the piece can be realized.
In addition to using her pregnancy to learn the “Goldberg Variations,” Dinnerstein’s childbearing was an important turning point for her professionally. “When my son was an infant, I had a lot less time to practice,” she says. “I needed to use my time wisely. I became a lot more focused, and I got a lot more done than before.
“On an emotional level, I saw myself as an adult when I had a child,” Dinnerstein says. “I was no longer a student. Because I was responsible for my child, and making choices for him, it made me think about taking responsibility for myself musically. No longer did I feel that I had to play in a certain way to please a certain teacher. I felt that I could make my own artistic choices based on what I feel is important as a musician.”
Classical Variations, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton. Friday, November 28, 8 p.m; and State Theater, New Brunswick. Saturday, November 29, 8 p.m. Thierry Fischer conducts. Simone Dinnerstein on piano. Program features works of Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Schubert. $20 to $82. 800-ALLEGRO or www.njsymphony.org.