Bwog Reviews: Glass + Schubert
Written by Zack Abrams
Deputy Editor and live music aficionado Zack Abrams attended the Miller Theatre last Thursday for the show ‘Glass + Schubert,’ a solo recital by pianist Simone Dinnerstein who performed music by Franz Schubert and Philip Glass.
After an enjoyable experience at the Miller Theatre last semester, I was once again excited to see Simone Dinnerstein perform classical works by Philip Glass, this time accompanied by works by Franz Schubert as well. The single performer made for a less dynamic performance than last time, but there was still much to be appreciated in the nuance of the pieces, which meshed together far more interestingly than the works of Bach and Glass at the first show.
The stage was set to amplify the presence of the single grand piano; a row of fake candles lined the edge of the stage, flickering in their electronic regularity. Soon after I sat down, the lights dimmed and Dinnerstein entered wearing flowing red silk over a sequined dress. Her dramatic solitude, as there was no sheet music and therefore no need for a page-turner, enhanced the melancholy tone of many of the pieces.
Because the works of Schubert and Glass meshed together well, Dinnerstein chose to splice together the repertoire rather than separate the halves by artist. She describes in the program how she deliberately obscured information about the composer and even the key in order to create an experience more like other concerts, as for most live performances the audience isn’t shown the setlist beforehand.
The first piece, Glass’s Metamorphosis One, showcased the composer’s distinct repetitive style, and Simone brought unique dynamics and effect to each repetition. Beginning the show with an understated piece was a curious choice, though it hinted at Dinnerstein’s excellent tempo control and watching her technique, notably her slow and precise hand-over-hand movements, added to the live experience.
Throughout the seven pieces of the first act, Dinnerstein alternated between Glass and Schubert (aside from the last two) highlighting the similar techniques of the composers, born exactly 140 years apart, sharing a January 30th birthday. Though the Schubert pieces carry the title of Impromptus, the misnomer given by Schubert’s publisher inaccurately describes the level of detail present in the works, which were thick with flowing melodies and cascading arpeggios. The Impromptus were smartly juxtaposed with Glass’s Etudes, which condensed many of Glass’s themes into a sparse solo performance. The final piece, Schubert’s Impromptu No. 4, was as dramatic as the opening was understated, closing off the first half and waking up the audience members who dozed off.
As in my last review, with the intermission in the show comes an intermission in my review. At the show, I was seated around a diverse assortment of older New Yorkers; I heard copious talk of art galleries and other classical performances. My favorite overheard came from the man seated in front of me; after the first half, he turned to his friend in my row, yawned, and said “You know, I used to be a clubber.”
In the second half of the show, Dinnerstein performed only two pieces, Glass’s Etude No. 2 and Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat major, which was divided into four movements. The opening piece by Glass had a fascinating opening; Dinnerstein played the opening melody with her right hand only before the left hand took over playing the same melody and eventually developing to alternating between the two, hand-over-hand. Dinnerstein’s concentration was shown through her fluid movements, impeccable tempo, and the emotional display of her face.
The final piece, the aforementioned Sonata among the final pieces Schubert composed before his death circa 1838, wrapped up the show in a display of melancholy, with themes of arpeggio and interesting tonal shifts. While the prior works of the show weren’t as technically impressive as the ones attempted by the pianists in the John Jay lounge beating at the keyboard no matter what hour of night you walk by, the final piece and the final movement in particular required expert precision and timing, which Dinnerstein performed near-flawlessly.
Overall, while I missed the presence of the Boston-based orchestra A Far Cry, who accompanied Dinnerstein at the first concert I attended, I enjoyed the program more here, as I felt that Schubert’s works contrasted more interestingly with Glass’s than Bach’s straightforward Baroque pieces. Looking ahead, the Miller Theatre’s upcoming Composer Portraits Event Series promises works by six composers “hailing from Brazil, China, France, Ireland, Massachusetts, and Brooklyn,” according to the website. I hope to see you there.