Simone Dinnerstein Exclusive Interview for Pianist

01 February 2012
imports_PIA_0-rki3r0lu-100000_82073.jpg Simone Dinnerstein Exclusive Interview for Pianist
American pianist Simone Dinnerstein was 33 years old when she garnered rave reviews for her ‘Goldberg’ Variations. Today the Sony Classical artist tours the world, but still retains a grounded and thoughtful personality, as Tim Stein discovers ...
When Simone Dinnerstein and I meet at Sony’s plush high-tech offices in London on a sunny day this past spring, there’s a tangible buzz surrounding her then newly released CD, A Strange Beauty. It’s a Bach-inspired CD in which she plays his Third English Suite alongside some chorale arrangements and two keyboards concertos with the Berlin Staatskapelle Chamber Orchestra. In a room that keeps getting darker (motion sensors keep turning the lights off), Dinnerstein’s quiet presence and soft-spoken Brooklyn accent belie the extraordinary musician she is, who has been on a fast-paced career trajectory since her phenomenal recording of the ‘Goldberg’ Variations, which she made at the surprisingly late age of 33, shot to chart-topping success.
She learned the Goldbergs while pregnant with her son Adrian (who was born with Rosalyn Tureck’s famous performance playing in the delivery room), raised funds herself with the help of family and friends to make her New York debut at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, recorded it on a beautiful 1903 Hamburg Steinway (a piano she eventually bought), and then sent recorded excerpts to a few critics and managers. In 2007, some two years later, Telarc released the recording. It sold over 30,000 copies. In 2010, Sony Classical came along to offer her an exclusive contract. How could a simple gal from New York refuse?
Dinnerstein first heard and fell in love with Bach’s famous variations at the age of 13. ‘His music feels as if it comes from the ground and goes to the sky,’ she says. And the music changed her life. ‘If it hadn’t been for the Goldbergs, I’d probably still be earning my living as a freelance pianist, playing chamber music, teaching privately, and working with the Piatigorsky Foundation, an organisation that brings musicians to small towns and venues that rarely get the opportunity to hear live music.’ Community outreach work remains a big part of Dinnerstein’s life. She is especially proud of Neighbourhood Classics, a rapidly expanding programme of weekend concerts she gives with colleagues at schools in the Brooklyn area. ‘The musicians play for nothing; all the funds go to the schools. It’s all about giving something back, and connecting musicians and the community.’
At our interview, dressed casually in a muted grey cardigan and wide-bottomed slacks, Dinnerstein hardly fits the picture of the conventional jet-setting classical artist, with critically acclaimed recordings in the bag, hot-footing it around the globe giving press interviews. Perhaps this has something to do with her grounded family values and the fact that she was never ‘a prodigy’, as she puts it, or the victim of too-early success.
Early renaissance
Dinnerstein’s earliest musical memories are of hearing someone playing Chopin at her ballet classes when she was four. ‘We were living in Rome at the time, where my father [the eminent artist Simon Dinnerstein], who had won the Prix de Rome, was working at the American Academy. I was about five when I asked my parents if I could start having lessons. But as they weren’t musicians, they didn’t think it was possible to start so young. And so my father asked a composer colleague at the Academy who suggested I start with the recorder. I began my musical studies with Renaissance music, which in a funny way was probably the best thing I could have done.’ [Cont...]

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