20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein
For this installment of our Q&A, we are fortunate enough to have renowned pianist Simone Dinnerstein. In recent years, the Brooklyn native has seen a growing list of accolades, major international appearances and acclaimed albums. She will perform a Bach concert in NY Jan. 30.


Dinnerstein's career took off in 2007 following the remarkable success of her recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, which earned the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Classical Chart in its first week on and was chosen as one of the Best CDs of the year by The New York Times and The New Yorker, among many others. Her path to success was unusual _ though she had graduated from Juilliard, after a decade of performing she lacked the major competition wins that usually launch a career in classical music. Taking matters into her own hands, she raised the funds to make her recording of the Goldberg Variations and because of it was signed to a major management company and the respected indie label, Telarc.

Since then, she has debuted with the New York Philharmonic and many other orchestras, released two more top-selling albums, given recitals at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and other major concert halls across the country and around the world in cities including Vienna, London, Paris, Cologne, Copenhagen, Rome, and Lisbon.

Known for her highly individual and emotive performances, Ms. Dinnerstein has been called "the pianists' pianist of Generation X" by The New Yorker. In Brooklyn where she grew up and still lives, Ms. Dinnerstein recently founded PS 321 Neighborhood Concerts, an evening concert series held at the public school that her son attends and where her husband teaches. Musicians performing donate their services, and ticket sales benefit the school's PTA.

Since 1996, she has played concerts presented by the Piatigorsky Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing classical music to non-traditional venues. Among the places she has played are nursing homes, schools and community centers. Most notably, she gave the first classical music performance in the Louisiana state prison system when she played at the Avoyelles Correctional Center. This fall, Ms. Dinnerstein performed for inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup, while in Baltimore for her debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Read about that performance here.

To ring in the new year, Dinnerstein will perform Bach in New York at PS 321 (Jan. 10) and Columbia University's Miller Theatre (Jan. 30), as well as in El Paso, TX; Las Cruces, NM; and Randolph, VT.


1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

All of the choral music of Orlando Gibbons; Purcell's Dido and Aeneas; Bach's B minor Mass; Schumann's Kinderszenen; Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Menuhin and Furtwangler; Myra Hess' last BBC recital; all of the recordings of Calliope, A Renaissance Band; and Schubert Lieder recorded by Renee Fleming and Christoph Eschenbach

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline; Tift Merritt's Another Country; Jacques Loussier and his trio playing the Goldberg Variations.

4. Music that makes you cry - any genre:

Judy Collins singing Leonard Cohen's Suzanne; Kirsten Flagstad singing Dido's Lament; children singing anything.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

I love Poulenc's L'Histoire de Babar. It's a beautiful, bittersweet piece of music bursting with tenderness and nostalgia. It's so much more than a curiosity for children.

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

Berlioz. I'm sorry, I know this makes me a bad person, but I just don't get it.

7. Live music performance (s) you attended - any genre - that you'll never forget:

I heard Annie Fischer play her last London recital in 1992. It was extraordinary. She liberated the music from the score, from the keyboard, from musical habit. She found a transcendent human voice at the piano.

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

I loved Man on Wire, the documentary on Philippe Petit who walked between the Twin Towers. I thought Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy, an account of the original production of the Mikado, was marvelous. And I've loved everything I've seen by Jane Campion ever since An Angel at my Table. Bright Star was just as good as I'd hoped it would be.

9. A few films you consider classics:

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, a memorable film, not least for the musical score. I love Wim Wender's Wings of Desire and Alice in the Cities; Hitchcock's Rear Window; and Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude.

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

I've been reading a lot of A.S. Byatt over the past few years and I especially like Babel Tower. It has many different stories woven into one over-arching narrative, and each story has a remarkably different voice and style. It's virtuosic writing. It's an added bonus that her books remind me of my years living in London.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you're most proud of:

I'm proud of how often I'm able to pick my son up after school. And I've never missed a Halloween.

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you're embarrassed by:

I am squeamish. Bugs, rodents, and so many other things upset me deeply.

13. Three things you can't live without:

My son, my husband and a piano (in that order).

14. "When I want to get away from it all I..."

...go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

15. "People are surprised to find out that I..."

...went to Italian public school as a young child. Sadly my fluent Italian is now gone...

16. "My favorite cities are..."

New York, London, Paris, Rome, New Orleans.

17. "I have a secret crush on..."

Jack Bauer from "24." Is there anything that man can't do?

18. "My most obvious guilty pleasure is..."

...getting into my pajamas, ordering take out and watching an action thriller.

19. "I'd really love to meet - or to have met..."

I find that real people are rarely as one would imagine _ not necessarily worse, but different. I would like to meet a character from fiction on the condition that he be exactly as I envisioned (in this case, when I was a twelve-year-old girl). And that person would be Aslan, The Great Lion from The Chronicles of Narnia.

20. "I never understood why..."

There's just so much I don't understand. It's hard to pick a winner.


Q: If you could lead an alternate life, what would you do?

A: I think my husband has a great life. He is a 5th grade teacher at PS 321 in Brooklyn. He spends the day with great kids and he finds his work completely absorbing. I often think about how happy I would be teaching at that school!


For a calendar of all performance dates, visit www.simonedinnerstein.com

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Pianist David Fray

Violinist Sarah Chang

Pianist Ingrid Fliter

Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Pianist Yefim "Fima" Bronfman

Soprano Sandrine Piau

Soprano Natalie Dessay

Harpsichordist and Conductor Christophe Rousset

Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs.

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire."

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