Sunday, April 10, 2011

Simone Dinnerstein

I was seeing a therapist a few years back, and it so happened that this particular woman was a music lover, so she was very interested in all my travails in that area; we spent a lot of time talking about them. Sometime around 2007-2008, she mentioned Simone Dinnerstein. Dinnerstein is a pianist who went to Juilliard and studied with some good people (including Peter Serkin and Maria Curcio), and  then, as I have heard her tell it, she had a baby and was casting about for what to do next. She was in her 30s at the time. She decided to learn Bach's Goldberg Variations, reasoning that even if nothing came of it careerwise it was at least great music (I think this last point was what interested my therapist vis-à-vis my situation). Dinnerstein ended up self-financing a recording of the Goldbergs, and it became a huge hit, launching what appears to be a major career as a performer.

This weekend, Dinnerstein was in Washington for a recital on Saturday night, and the evening before, she gave a master class that was open to the public, so I went to check it out. (We already had tickets for the recital, part of a subscription series.) Some of the piano-related things she talked about:
  • Gauge tempo and pedaling on the performance space. In a really resonant space, you need to play slower than in a dry space and use less pedal.
  • Use fingers to produce color, a singing tone, more contact with the keys, and to play to the key bed. She quoted Rachmaninoff's dictum to "feel the wetness in the key."
  • Think about voicing and producing a variety of colors.
  • Shape each line (this particularly in the context of Bach).
  • Be planful but not completely predictable.
Possibly the best thing she said (IMO, anyway) was that in a performance, if you make a mistake or if something goes wrong don't stop and don't show it in your face or body language -- just press on. Everyone -- everyone! -- has bloopers, but most of the time, the audience will not even notice. And anyway, nobody died.

Another interesting comment was that in her opinion, jazz musicians are the most intellectual musicians of all because they have intimate knowledge of every chord progression they play, but at the same time, they play so freely. She said they generally are much more knowledgeable about harmony than any classical musician. She added that classical pianists should listen to music played by other instruments and preferably in other genres than classical (i.e., if you are familiar with the sounds produced by other instruments, you will have a better idea of different tone colors you can try to produce on the piano).

She came across as very down to earth, though serious and dedicated to her art. This was also in evidence at the recital the following evening, where she played Schumann's Op. 12 Fantasy Pieces, Bach's English Suite in G minor, three Bach chorale prelude arrangements by three different composers, and Beethoven's Op. 27 No. 1. Encores were a Schubert impromptu (really dazzling!) and Schumann's "Of Strange Lands and People" from "Scenes From Childhood." (She preceded the Beethoven by informing the audience that if they came to the reception and shook her hand, they would be only seven handshakes from Beethoven -- her teacher studied with so-and-so, who studied with an earlier so-and-so, and so on back to Czerny, who studied with Beethoven.)

There was something about her playing that was so much more interesting than some of the other pianists I've heard in the past few years. I think it's because she took chances and did some unusual things, and her voicing was in general extremely clear, with the important lines emerging ringingly from the composers' tangles of notes. Her performance was both polished and exploratory.

I often wonder if I'm doing the right thing by spending so much time playing the piano, but then I hear something like this, and it feels like it is the right thing. I feel connected to something larger. In any case, I doubt if I could stop! It's turned into a compulsion -- but one I think my former therapist would approve.


pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

Sounds like a wonderful evening of music and learning.

She's so right about not stopping and showing your mistakes. I find that so hard to do in music, but I think I'm pretty adept at doing it in other parts of my life: pretending that everything is ok and just the way I meant it to be. I guess we should also practice not showing our mistakes. Hard!

Harriet said...

My problem (and probably this is true for everyone) is that when I make a mistake it throws off my muscle memory, so it's hard to just keep going because my fingers lose their way! You have to know the piece very well to glide through mistakes like that.