ABOUT THE ARTIST
Simone Dinnerstein is an American pianist who achieved instant stardom, both critically and commercially, for her self-financed recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, released in 2007. She studied in the pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music, attended The Juilliard School of Music, and was a student of Peter Serkin.
When the Telarc label released the recording of the Goldberg Variations, her career was “launched into the stratosphere.” In its first week of commercial release, the recording was at No. 1 on the Billboard classical music chart. The disc appeared on a number of “Best of 2007” lists, including those of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Time Out New York, several radio stations, iTunes “Editor’s Choice Best Classical,” Amazon.com’s Best CDs of 2007, and Barnes & Noble’s Top 5 Debut CDs of 2007.
To follow up on her success, Dinnerstein recorded a recital live at the Berlin Philharmonie. In 2010, she signed with Sony Classical, and in 2011 released her first album on that label, titled Bach: A Strange Beauty. In its first week of commercial release, the recording made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart. Bach: A Strange Beauty also spent time as the top selling album on Barnesandnoble.com and No. 2 selling album on Amazon.com, in good company with The Decemberists, Cake, The Black Keys, and Bruno Mars. Dinnerstein was also featured on CBS Sunday Morning. Her second Sony Classical album, Something Almost Being Said: Music of Bach and Schubert, was released
in January 2012.
In addition to her solo recital work, Dinnerstein has been a featured guest artist at the Bard Music Festival. She has performed and recorded Beethoven’s cello sonatas with both Simca Heled and Zuill Bailey. In addition, she has appeared as a chamber musician in performances of
contemporary music, including works of Yehudi Wyner and Ned Rorem.
Dinnerstein has toured as piano soloist with the Dresden Philharmonic and Czech Philharmonic. She has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Absolute Ensemble.
In 2013, Dinnerstein released an album with singer-songwriter Tift Merritt called Night, on Sony. In 2014, she returned to Bach with Inventions & Sinfonias. A former piano teacher, Dinnerstein resides in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn with her husband, Jeremy Greensmith, a fifth grade teacher at P.S. 321, and their son, Adrian. Dinnerstein’s father, Simon Dinnerstein, is a renowned artist. Her mother, Renee Dinnerstein, runs the popular blog Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Philip Glass (b. 1937) permanently changed the parameters of art music. His musical education and mentorage was both traditional and avant-garde: Juilliard, Darius Milhaud, Nadia Boulanger, and Ravi Shankar. He found himself drawn to experimental theater and to the films of Godard and Truffaut. His music evolved from minimalism — which he calls “music with repetitive structures” — through neo-Romantic, neo-Baroque, electronic, and world music, and is often part of an artistic collaboration with dancers, filmmakers, or pop musicians. Critics were slow to appreciate his work — witness the fact that the film Koyaanisqatsi (for which he composed the soundtrack and whose influence on modern culture was immense) did not receive any major awards. Nearly twenty years after its release, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” But the public got his message from the start, and his many operas, symphonies, concerti, and multimedia compositions played to sold-out halls around the globe. Philip Glass has collaborated with recording artists such as Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, Suzanne Vega, and Natalie Merchant. He is one of the most influential composers of this era, and is widely acknowledged as having brought art music to the general public.
Glass formed his own group of winds and keyboards to tour with his minimalist music. The Philip Glass Ensemble has toured extensively in Europe and North America over the past twenty years. Glass has written music for the Ensemble to play without him, giving him the opportunity to perform on solo piano. “Touring by myself is very easy. With the Ensemble, there is about two tons of equipment to transport as well as eleven people. But when I travel by myself, there is no tour manager and I carry no music — it's all in my head.”
Glass’s Metamorphoses for solo piano takes its title from a play based on Kafka’s short story, for which he wrote incidental music. Number one uses themes from Glass’s soundtrack to the film The Thin Blue Line. Glass wrote of the first set of Etudes: “The Etudes were begun in the mid-90s, and new music is still being added to this collection as I write these notes in 2003. Their purpose was twofold. First, to provide new music for my solo piano concerts. And second, for me to expand my piano technique with music that would enhance and challenge my playing. Hence, the name Etudes, or ‘studies.’ The result is a body of work that has a broad range of dynamic and tempo.” In 2014, Glass added this note: “The second set of ten Etudes (now referred to as Book 2) has turned out quite differently. Just as Etudes 1-10 (Book 1) took up the technical matters of piano playing, Book 2 is an extension of a musical journey undertaken in the last ten years. The subsequent Etudes have been about the language of music itself — developing new strategies regarding rhythmic and harmonic movement.”
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) did not call his first set of short piano pieces Impromptus — the title was added by his publisher, based on the success of a group of pieces with that name by another composer. Despite their improvisational style, they are actually carefully thought-out works that use the basic format of a theme and variations. Within that framework, each variation is usually ternary (three-part, or ABA), with a central B section that creates a musical contrast.
Impromptu Op. 90, No. 1, in C Minor, D. 899, starts powerfully, with heavily accented phrases. After a march-like presentation of the theme, arpeggios and repeated chords accompany a gentler version, and for the rest of the piece, strong and gentle seem to compete for prominence.
Op. 90, No. 2, in E Flat Major is in a dancing 3/4 time. The right hand plays a sweet melody within constant decorative runs. The middle section is minor and full of tense harmonies and modulations, all of which are resolved by the return to the swaying waltz-like dance. This Impromptu, however, changes the pattern, and the strong central material makes another appearance to close the piece, making the structure ABAB rather than the expected ABA.
Op. 90, No. 3, in G Flat Major starts with a lovely aria in the treble, accompanied by steady bass notes and a fast running figuration in between them. The theme moves into the minor for the central section, returning to the earlier musical material for the closing.
Like the previous piece, the Impromptu Op. 90, No. 4, in A Flat Major has at least three layers: the ornamental figuration in the right hand, the theme in the middle range, and the bass accompaniment. Later it moves into a more usual pattern, with repeated chords beneath the treble theme. As usual, the opening material returns to complete the piece.
The last year of Schubert’s short life was a period of great creativity. Despite the facts that he knew his health was severely compromised and that he could expect nothing but rejection from the Viennese musical establishment, he continued to compose masterpieces, including the Sonata in B-flat Major for Piano, D. 960.
The Molto moderato starts with a hushed, hymn-like melody accompanied by a low bass pedal point (a single pitch repeated below moving harmonies). The phrase is concluded with a low, mysterious trill. Schubert, master of art song, creates haunting pathos with an insistent bass and a soaring tune.
In the slow movement (Andante sostenuto) Schubert moves to a minor key (C-sharp minor). The story goes that Schubert, while on vacation, watched a gang of laborers and wrote down some of their work songs, and that the dotted-rhythm figure in the accompaniment is an imitation of their synchronized hammer blows.
The Scherzo (Allegro vivace con delicatezza) offers a complete respite from the angst of the previous movements. But even here, the central trio in a minor key offers a reminder of the troubles of the past. The happier mood returns with the repeat of the opening material.
In the Finale (Allegro, ma non troppo), the melody hangs on a single sustained note before the rondo theme is introduced. Each time the rondo theme recurs, that lone note reappears, creating suspense and expectation. Schumann wrote of this movement: “Thus Schubert ends both gaily and cheerfully, as though fully able to face another day’s work.”
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
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Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg