Look at that

On Thursday night, American classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein had a “Special Event” concert at Miller Theatre. Muhly-phile Alexandra Svokos was there, though unfortunately missed the first piece (Bach’s Two-Part Inventions for keyboard, BWV 772-786) for a class.

Simone Dinnerstein is full of presence and feelings. From her face and posture as she plays, she appears to truly embody a composition, connecting with it and the composer to convey the intentions to an audience. Because ultimately being a concert pianist is about being able to perform, and oh boy does Dinnerstein know what she’s doing up on stage, wrapping the audience up around her long fingers.

Aside from this charisma, Dinnerstein has actual technical talent and ability. She is a courageous performer, choosing complex and unusual compositions to showcase. Her concert at Miller was no exception. Dinnerstein played 4 pieces: the Bach Inventions, the New York premiere of You Can’t Get There From Here by Nico Muhly, CCxJ’03, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk) by George Crumb, and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor (Opus 111).

Muhly’s composition was what we’ve come to expect from him: intricate woven melodies with pleasantly surprising takes. It began with a building pattern–Dinnerstein adding more keys like an expert juggler before stopping completely. In her program notes, she explains that portions of this piece “[break] away from meter entirely, allowing the performer free rein,” and indeed she took advantage of this, taking control to make the piece her own.

It was a long episodic piece but Dinnerstein kept up with gusto in each varying section. Finally, near the end, there was a dizzying section over on the left side of the keyboard that Dinnerstein astonishingly owned. The slower sections veered towards melodramatic, but the faster sections shone with both Dinnerstein’s ability and Muhly’s attention to detail and complexity. These two are a good fit for each other.

The Crumb piece was different—one of those experimental compositions that has the old people shifting in their seats. It employed full use of the piano as a total instrument, as if a reminder of the parts that make up a piano. The stage was set with some mood lighting: a red draped lamp on a table next to the piano. On that table was a mallet for Dinnerstein to hit the crossbars with (reminder: a piano is technically a percussion instrument). She also stood up straight to stroke the strings like a harp and plucked them like a guitar. At one point she had to shout, counting up to 12 in Italian before menacingly whispering “mezzanotte.” It was an odd one, for sure, but Dinnerstein was more than game to play around.

The final piece of the night was back to “basics” with Beethoven. The Sonata was complicated and involved some serious focus from Dinnerstein, who glared fiercely at the keys as she played on, losing some of the ease with which she played the other selections. Still, it was a lovely piece and Dinnerstein made it through consistently and beautifully.

Weird stock photo via Shutterstock