Pianist Simone Dinnerstein performed at Spivey Hall on Nov. 5, 2023. (credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco)

A Tale of Two Pianists: Simone Dinnerstein and Paul Barnes, both play Glass

CONCERT REVIEW:
Simone Dinnerstien
November 5, 2023 @ 3:00pm
Spivey Hall, Clayton State University
Morrow, GA – USA
Simone Dinnerstein, piano.
François COUPERIN: Les Barricades Mystérieuses
François COUPERIN: Le Tic Toc Choc ou les Maillotins
Robert SCHUMANN: Arabeske in C Major
Philip GLASS: Mad Rush
Erik SATIE: Gnossienne, No. 3
Robert SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana, Op. 16
Paul Barnes
November 5, 2023 @ 7:30pm
North Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, GA – USA
Paul Barnes, piano; NDPC Choir; Esther Kim & Andre Barnes, violin; Dajon Carter, viola; and Gabriel Harmon, cello.
Victoria BOND: Illuminations on Byzantine Chants
J.A.C. REDFORD: Variations on the Incarnation
Philip GLASS: Annunciation

William Ford | 7 NOV 2023

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”

Well, not really! It was actually the best of times on Sunday in Morrow and Decatur, Georgia, where two outstanding pianists gave two great performances with one thing in common: works by one of the most influential living, contemporary composers.

Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall presented another renowned artist in its piano series: Simone Dinnerstein, who is a highly respected pianist known for her unique interpretations of the classical piano repertoire. She is said to convey a deep sense of emotion in her performances, but put in another way, she is said to use her expressiveness to make up for less-than-perfect execution.

Ms. Dinnerstein addressed the audience prior to her performance. She explained that the pieces she was about to perform are structured as rondeaus, where there is a central “A” theme that returns after exploring contrasting “B” and “C” sections. She explained that humans seem to take comfort in repetition in life. She also said the various pieces would be played attaca, without break. She also offered that the pieces by Couperin would be played at the beginning of the program, as opposed to being separated as in the program booklet.


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The program began with Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses (1717), which seems to elude successful translation. The piece, when played on a harpsichord, is easily identifiable as baroque sounded strangely different in Dinnerstein’s performance. She took it at a leisurely tempo and played the notes more legato than other keyboardists do. Disregarding certain baroque embellishments (e.g., trills), Dinnerstein’s interpretation sounded very “New Age,” that is, pleasant but without a lot of muscle. The same could not be said of her playing Le Tic Toc Choc ou les Maillotins, another Couperin work with an almost untranslatable title. It was originally written for the harpsichord but sounds more rounded and refined on the modern-day piano. MS. Dinnerstein is not a flamboyant pianist who throws her entire body into her performance; she gains her power from her shoulders to her wrists. It is a welcome and refined style that provides no distraction from the music.

The next work was Robert Schumann’s Arabeske in C Major (1839). During its composition, Schumann was forced to be separated from his love, Clara Wieck, who later became his wife. Dinnerstein nicely conveyed the composer’s sweet yearning without being saccharine while providing the needed strength in the more robust sections.

Philip Glass (credit: Danny Clinch)

Philip Glass (credit: Danny Clinch)

Next was Mad Rush by Philip Glass, which was originally written for organ to honor the Dalai Lama’s visit to North America in 1980. Glass is, of course, the influential, prolific composer who is considered by some to be the most important composer of the last 50 or so years. Mad Rush was conceived as a piece of indefinite length; Dinnerstein chose the version that contains three repetitions, each containing a quiet, contemplative section followed by an energetic, almost frantic section. Having developed a reputation as a Glass specialist, Dinnerstein demonstrated here a great affinity for the composer’s music. Her performance of the sweet introspective passages was intimate and hypnotic, and she was suitably muscular in the energetic and powerful passages.

In the early years of his career, Glass’ music may have been an acquired taste, but as his music has been used in movies, TV shows, and commercials, he no longer can be considered cutting-edge. Audiences have learned to listen to and understand his music and to enjoy it as a powerful experience. The shock of hearing the repeated arpeggios played underneath simple, lovely chord progressions has worn off. This performance may have been the highlight of the afternoon, and judging by comments overheard during the intermission, the patrons were enthralled.


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After the intermission, Ms. Dinnerstein started the second half with Erik Satie’s Gnossienne, No. 3, another title that has no specific meaning. It’s a slow, dreamy piece with a bit of sly humor. Satie composed a suite of six Gnossiennes, the entirety of which were not published until some seventy years after they were composed. While the non-conventional composer was dismissed during his lifetime, his works appeal because of their simplicity and whimsy. The only problem with Dinnerstein’s performance was that she didn’t play more of the pieces.

The final work was Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838), a suite of eight contrasting and expressive pieces. It alternates between fiery turbulence and lyrical, dreamy sequences. It is one of the composer’s most popular works and fits so comfortably in the Romantic era’s Sturm und Drang sensibilities. Dinnerstein again performed beautifully with well-modulated expressiveness, keeping the work’s hyperemotionality within reasonable bounds.

After repeated curtain calls from the near-capacity crowd, Dinnerstein chose to play an encore of Glass’ Etude No. 6, which is a bit more rhythmically driven than Mad Rush. The music was at once disquieting and hypnotic, and it was performed beautifully. Ms. Dinnerstein lives up to her reputation as a major force in performing Mr. Glass’ music.

Pianist Paul Barnes in performance at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Nov, 5, 2023. (credit: William Ford)

Pianist Paul Barnes in performance at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Nov, 5, 2023. (credit: William Ford)

In the evening at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church (NDPC), pianist Paul Barnes played a program titled “Illumination.” Barnes is Marguerite Scribante Professor of Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music. He is known for his interpretations of Liszt and for his friendship and collaboration with composer Philip Glass. He, in fact, has premiered two of Glass’ compositions: his second piano concerto and his piano quintet. Barnes is also a Byzantine chanter.

This program was infused with Barne’s religious beliefs. Structurally, portions of Byzantine chants were sung by the NDPC Choir, and then music incorporating, or at least “illuminating,” those chants by various composers were played. Detailed program notes explained each chant and the related composition.

The first piece of music by Victoria Bond, titled Illuminations on Byzantine Chant, was written in collaboration with Barnes. It was published in 2021 but had been composed over several years. Barnes played it with vigor and, well, almost religious fervor. I found the piece rather impenetrable. It seemed formless, almost as it were written in a stream-of-consciousness style. If I had been more familiar with the underlying chants, I might likely have found it more meaningful. The acoustics of the NDPC are dry, and the piano seemed overly bright, which gave the music a slight hard edge.


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The second work was by J.A.C. Redford and titled Variations on the Incarnation (2023). Redford is an American composer who has written for film, television, and the concert hall. He has written music for more than three dozen feature films, TV movies, and miniseries. Most notably, he wrote the Emmy-nominated music for TV’s St. Elsewhere.

Barnes recounted how he used to sing the major theme of the work to his children around the Nativity because of its beauty. Redford’s work itself is a theme and set of six variations. It is a wonderfully tonal music full of joy and mysticism. Barnes’ technical prowess and his affinity for the music made for a powerful performance.

The final work was Philip Glass’ only piano quintet titled Annunciation (2018). This is the second time I have heard this work, the first being at its world premiere in Lincoln, NE. It is a two-part work, with the second part featuring the Greek Orthodox hymn of the Annunciation. The quintet does not stray afield from Glass’ hallmark style. It features the repeated arpeggios, mostly in the piano part, accompanied by tonal and ever-slightly evolving chordal structures that add lyricism over the underlying agitated figures. In the quintet, most of the “heavy lifting” is done in the piano part, while the string quartet adds richness and warmth. Glass’ music urges the listener to disconnect from everyday matters by staying in the moment in a trance-like experience.

Barnes is a master at playing Glass’ music. He is a player with big tone and the virtuosity needed to make that strength supple and gentle when needed.

The members of the string quartet were wonderful: violinists Esther Kim and Andre Barnes, violist Dajon Carter and cellist Gabriel Harmon.

Overall, the program was designed to guide the listener through the new works based on the Byzantine chants. It was both intriguing and rewarding.   ■

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About the author:
William Ford is an avid classical music fan and a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta. His reviews and interviews can most frequently be found online at Bachtrack and www.atlantamusiccritic.com

Read more by William Ford.
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