Definitely not your usual route to success. The New York Times archives have a few earlier references to pianist Simone Dinnerstein, but the big break came less than a year ago. Anne Midgett’s August 28, 2007 story, How Do You Move a Career Into High Gear? By Breaking the Rules, was the first real news about her major career.
That career is marked by an entirely different approach to making connections. There are no major competition prizes, and that alone is unusual these days.
I also don’t know a lot of musicians with MySpace pages, although I imagine they’re out there. But Simone Dinnerstein has (at last count) 2237 “Friends” on that social network. Actually, I wouldn’t mind having some of her friends. Evgeny Kissin, for example, and even David Byrne, John Adams, and Sting (I always wondered what happened to his first name). There are many more, then moving on to lots of fairly strange people that, I bet, are not really her friends.
And do you think Barenboim or Brendel would keep a “favorites list” on Amazon? I stumbled upon her “Music You Should Hear” list, and no, it’s not Bach, and Brahms. In fact, there are no classical piano works on the list. A couple of great singers make the cut, plus Mendelssohn and Beethoven Violin Concertos (Furtwangler and Menuhin). The closest we get to Bach are the arrangements/paraphrases/inspirations on the Goldberg Variations by jazz great Uri Caine (one of my personal favorites, although it’s certainly not for everyone).
Dinnerstein will play Copland’s thorny Piano Variations, a work that should be in our standard repertoire, but in fact is rarely performed. It has been played once in Portland Piano International’s history, by Marian Hahn, in 1978. Come to the recital if only to hear this great American work.
The Variations are austere, and that may be a kind word. Leonard Bernstein loved the work, but admitted it was “hard as nails” and said when he played it at parties he could “empty the room, guaranteed, in two minutes.”
Not necessarily easy listening, especially since we only hear it every thirty years. It’s still a great piece, and regarded as one of the most significant works of modern piano literature.
Martha Graham choreographed the Piano Variations, calling it Dithyrambic, evoking Dionysus. That version was quite successful.
Simone will be coming to us from the Festival Del Sole Napa in Calistoga, California, where she plays on Thursday evening.
James Bash’s recent interview with Dinnerstein is on his blog, Northwest Reverb:
The Portland International Piano Festival runs through Sunday, July 20th. Details at