The Princeton Symphony Orchestra moves into the second portion of its 2017-2018 season with a series of master classes tied to orchestral performances. Coming up is Simone Dinnerstein’s piano session on Saturday, January 27, in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College.
The class complements Dinnerstein’s Sunday, January 28, appearance at Richardson Auditorium to perform two piano concerti with the PSO: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto in G minor, written in 1738, and Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto, a 2004 PSO co-commission. The performance is at 4 p.m.
All PSO master classes are open to the public to observe, are free of charge — though reservations are required — and are part of the PSO’s “BRAVO” educational outreach program, developed in partnership with Westminster Conservatory of Music.
There are no age restrictions regarding musicians participating in the master class. Applicants submit videos limited to 12 minutes of what they intended to play. “We recommend that both hands and feet are visible in the video,” the guidelines advise competitors.
The four participants in Dinnerstein’s class range in age from 9 to 22. The youngest is Joanna Hou, who will play the rondo from Anton Diabelli’s Sonatina in F Major, Op. 168 No. 1. She is in fourth grade at Princeton Charter School and studies piano with Jessica Rey-de-Castro.
Alexander Suponya, 15, plays Enrique Granados’ “Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruisenor” from “Goyescas.” A sophomore at East Brunswick High School, he studies piano with Rita Shklar.
Alexa Majana, 20, plays the allegretto movement from Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 101. A candidate for a bachelor’s degree in piano at Westminster Choir College, she studies piano with James Goldsworthy.
And Richard Denzel Garrick, 22, plays Frederic Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61. He is a senior at Westminster Choir College and studies with Ingrid Clarfield.
PSO music director Rossen Milanov also plans to participate — as a visitor. He played no part in selecting master class participants, who were chosen by a panel of PSO musicians.
In addition to the January session, the PSO has scheduled two additional master classes. Cellist and composer Joshua Roman leads a session on Saturday, March 17, at 3 p.m., and then performs his 2015 cello concerto, “Awakening,” in the PSO concert on Sunday, March 18, at 4 p.m. On Saturday, May 19 at 2 p.m. violinist Ilya Kaler conducts a master class before performing in Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major on Sunday, May 20, 4 p.m.
Dinnerstein’s insight regarding a career in music may be especially interesting to musicians and audience. She essentially created her own career as a pianist, using 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 2005.
“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 the 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.”
Word of the 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 the international independent recording company Telarc took on her CD as their own, releasing it with no modifications. Dinnerstein’s “Goldberg Variations” became the number one seller on Billboard’s classical chart during its first week of sales.
Since then she has circled the world as a concerto soloist.
In a previous interview (U.S. 1, November 26, 2008), Dinnerstein shared a point of view that may have contributed to her success. She said she considers a concerto a species of chamber music rather than a situation of the soloist versus the orchestra.
A student of Peter Serkin and a Juilliard graduate, Dinnerstein is a faculty member of New York’s Mannes School of Music and is a Sony Classical artist. Committed to music education, she brings a digital keyboard into elementary school classrooms across the country through her “Bachpacking” initiative.
Marc Uys, executive director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, is excited about the growing number of master classes sponsored by the orchestra. “One master class a year is not enough,” he says. “If you only feature one instrument a year, it would be possible to have an entire childhood go by without ever hearing your own instrument.”
Delighted by the large age range of students accepted for the 2018 piano master class, Uys says, “It will be interesting to see an artist working with master class students of different ages and in different stages of development.”
Uys says the piano is exceptional from an orchestral point of view, since normally an orchestra includes only one piano. When participants in a master class for cello, violin, or other orchestral instrument are selected, more orchestral musicians who play that instrument can be involved.
“It’s useful to see how different instrumentalists handle a variety of obstacles on different instruments,” he adds. “Strategies for dealing with a leap on a piano, where a relatively large distance must be covered, differ from handling the same size of leap on a string instrument, where the distance may be only a matter of centimeters. The listener at multiple master classes observes that string instruments can increase the volume of a sustained note, though it is impossible on the piano.
“It’s enlightening to hear various instrumentalists talk about music,” Uys says. “You learn all the time.”
The nature of a master class has built-in problems. Uys mentions several of them. “The class must provide value for the participant, and, at the same time, keep the audience engaged. Having a range of students helps.”
There is no recipe for teaching a master class well. Student and teacher most commonly meet for the first time when they appear on stage together. “Different students have different experiences during the class,” says Uys. “The ease of putting the advice of a master musician into practice varies with participants. Some students can alter the way they play a piece readily. For some students, long practice may make change difficult.”
Born in Pietermoritzburg, South Africa, to two mathematicians, Uys joined the PSO as its manager of operations in 2014 and coordinates all the non-musical aspects of putting on a concert. Additionally he serves as the PSO’s executive director, working with the PSO board and the community, and remains active as a violinist, performing as a freelance violinist, performing with his harpist wife, Jacqueline Kerrod, and playing with the PSO.
Returning to the upcoming master class and what musicians and non-musicians can get out of it, Uys says, “A master class is another way for an audience to see guest artists in action. It shows how they think about music. The professional’s insights come out in the class.”
Piano Master Class with Simone Dinnerstein, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College. Saturday, January 27, 2 p.m. Free. Tickets required.
Bates, Bach, Glass, and Ravel, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Sunday, January 28, 4 p.m. $35 to $85. www.princetonsymphony.org or 609 497-0020.