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15 Questions to Simone Dinnerstein

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m sitting in my living room in Brooklyn after having gotten back from a busy summer of traveling.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I’ve got a few days off, and then I plunge back in again. I have my debut recitals coming up in London and Berlin and I’m preparing the Dvorak concerto which I’ll be playing under Zdenek Macal and the Czech Philharmonic and Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto which I’ll be playing under Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and the Dresden Philharmonic.

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?

That’s a hard question. My husband’s a teacher and that looks like tremendously rewarding work.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
I have so many influences – teachers, other musicians and so on - that it’s hard to name the most significant. I think one very pervasive influence was growing up with my parents, one of whom is a teacher and the other an artist. Both are very committed to the content of their work, to following their own ideals and doing what they do with integrity.  Compromise isn’t part of either of my parents’ approach to life.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
The hardest part of being a musician is the travel, which takes me away from my family. The best part is being able to explore and share extraordinary pieces of music.

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I think crisis is a strong term. Some parts of the music business are facing challenges, certainly. But there’s also much that’s special going on. There are exciting performers and composers and people are still going to concerts in large numbers. If I were to identify the greatest risk to classical music at the moment I would think of the decline of classical music as a common interest of educated people. Long-term, that’s not a good trend.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?

If classical music is to remain vital it has to be a living tradition. That means that every generation needs to make it’s own Goldberg Variations or whatever. What we need is the interpretation that results from the coincidence between the score, the interpreter, the listener and the particular historical context in which all of these exist. That context is very different now than it was in the 1980s and it was different again 20 years before. We can still enjoy those recordings but we shouldn’t let other generations make music for us.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

At a live performance I want to be caught up in the current of musical imagination and experience. I want to be able to close my eyes and experience a musical journey or argument that has its own logic, coherence and drive. 

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
An interpretation is an imaginative response to a musical score.

How do you balance the need to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
I don’t see any conflict between the two. The first thing you do with a piece of music is read it closely and begin to imagine it. If you’re really looking closely at the score and imagining it as richly as you can, you won’t try to push the music to do something that it doesn’t want to. 

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
It depends what you mean by educated. I think that music should be able to speak clearly to everyone. But the more music you’ve heard and really opened yourself up to, the larger context you have for every new musical experience. So for any classical music lover who wants to deepen their appreciation, my first advice would be to listen to more music.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
That’s a big question! I think I’d be interested in juxtapositions that didn’t sit too easily. I think classical music sometimes gets seduced by chronology. I like the idea of mixing styles up completely – placing renaissance music next to a piece of high romanticism, for example. We have so much music in our ears that it’s important to try to shake any predictability off. I remember once hearing a Shostakovich quartet following a piece by George Crumb. The Shostakovich sounded so different coming out of Crumb’s sound world.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?

I enjoy playing the piano, which is fortunate since I spend a lot of time at the keyboard. That said, I spend a lot of time trying to think of sounds beyond the piano. For example, when I recorded the Goldberg variations I thought of all of Bach’s output – string sonatas and partitas, cantatas, orchestral suites – and tried to imagine those mediated through a piano. One of the marvelous things about the piano is that it’s possible to think like this on it.
The challenge for pianists is that unlike many instrumentalists they don’t have one instrument with which to build a relationship. There are very few pianos which I’ve felt a truly special connection with, but one is the 1903 Hamburg that I recorded the Goldbergs on. It sounds mystical, but that piano has a real soul. I wish I got to play it all the time.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
I played the recorder when I was a child. I was pretty good, but most importantly it introduced me at a young age to renaissance music, which remains one of my favorite musical aesthetics.

Beethoven Cello & Piano Sonatas/ w. Zuill Bailey (Delos) 2006
Goldberg Variations (Telarc) 2007

Simone Dinnerstein

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