Simone Dinnerstein Brings Bach's Music to Quogue - 27 East

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Simone Dinnerstein Brings Bach's Music to Quogue

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Pianist Simone Dinnerstein performs with her ensemble, Baroklyn, in Quogue on June 15. LISA-MARIE MAZZUCCO

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein performs with her ensemble, Baroklyn, in Quogue on June 15. LISA-MARIE MAZZUCCO

Dan Stark on Jun 10, 2024

It takes a while for many people to find their calling in life. For Simone Dinnerstein, she knew at a young age that she wanted to pursue a career as a pianist.

“I really wanted to be a pianist from the moment that I started playing,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I had this fantasy about what it meant to be a concert pianist, which was really based on movies that I’d seen. The nature of what it means to have a career as a pianist has changed within me over the years, but I always identified myself as being a pianist from the moment I started.”

And she was able to do just that.

After beginning her musical journey at the age of nine, Dinnerstein has had an accomplished career as a classical pianist, performing shows by herself and with different ensembles, as well as recording 13 albums. Now, she will be bringing her talents to Quogue Community Hall where, this Saturday, June 15, she will perform at 7:30 p.m. as part of the 15th season of concerts put on by Quogue Chamber Music. She will be joined by the ensemble Baroklyn as well as soloists Jennifer Johnson Cano (mezzo soprano), Peggy Pearson (oboe) and Rebecca Fischer (violin).

The concert will feature a program of music entirely by Johann Sebastian Bach, the famed German composer of the late Baroque Period in the 1700s widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

Dinnerstein first discovered Bach’s music she when started playing by learning short preludes written by him, but never fully appreciated his music until her teenage years when she discovered pianist Glenn Gould’s versions of Bach’s works.

“I was more drawn to very romantic, show music,” said Dinnerstein. “When I was younger, I really liked [Franz] Liszt and things that were more demonstrative. Then when I was a teenager, there was a shift, and I became really obsessed with the pianist Glenn Gould and started listening to him playing lots and lots of Bach.”

Dinnerstein called Bach’s music “the most crafted and most impressive compositionally of any composer” while also feeling “improvised and spontaneous” due to the complex changes that define his compositions. The compositions are also varied in that some are written only for solo piano, while others feature solo instruments or even a full choir. The diversity of his repertoire and within compositions are what makes his music stand out to her.

“There’s a tremendous diversity in his music, both in terms of the types of expression that the music has and the forces used.”

But performing live has been a big part of Dinnerstein’s career since the beginning. She attended the preparatory division of the Manhattan School of Music when she began playing piano. Part of this program was a weekly event called Music Hour, where students would meet every Saturday to perform for each other and their parents. She recalled being “really excited to be performing there” and credited her director, Dianne Flagello, for creating a supportive atmosphere for the students and being “very, very warm” to all of them.

In her career, Dinnerstein has played a mix of solo shows and shows with ensembles. She described playing with ensembles as an experience filled with highs and lows.

“Playing with an ensemble can be extremely inspiring because there’s an energy that’s been given to and received from the other musicians,” she said. “And it can also be very frustrating if you’re playing with a group where you don’t feel that you mesh with them.”

But she doesn’t have to worry about that with her current group, Baroklyn, an 11-piece ensemble that she created. Unlike other ensembles she has performed with, she selected the musicians and leads the group, something that she hasn’t done before.

“It’s a very different experience because I can be very selective about the types of musicians that are playing in that group,” she said. “Everyone playing is very collaborative, but they’re also looking to me to lead them, and that’s different than playing with an ensemble where there’s a conductor.”

Dinnerstein spoke highly of Baroklyn, as she works very well with all the musicians and there’s a great sense of musical understanding among them, making it more rewarding than other groups she has worked with.

“I always have wonderful experiences playing with Baroklyn because the musicians in the ensemble are such great listeners and communicators,” she said. “We are really experimental and spend time rehearsing and discussing and it’s much more rewarding for me than playing with most other ensembles.”

Another project that Dinnerstein feels particularly proud of is a trio of albums released from 2020 to 2022 known as the “pandemic trilogy.” The albums, “A Character of Quiet,” in 2020, “An American Mosaic” (2021) and “Undersong” (2022) were recorded at her home and reflect the stress, anxiousness and tension felt by herself and many others during that time.

She called the process of recording these albums “an extremely positive way of dealing with a situation that felt really frightening” and referred to them as some of her “most personal” works.

“I felt that those three albums were some of my most personal albums in terms of just how I felt when I was playing and how the intimacy of being in my own space informed the interpretations and the sound of them,” she said.

In addition to her performing and recording projects, Dinnerstein also undertook a project before the pandemic called “Bach-packing,” where she would go to music classes in different schools to play Bach’s music for students. The goal of this was to show students the music in a more intimate setting after previously performing in school auditoriums.

“When I performed for schools, they would have me play in big auditoriums for 200 children,” she said. “And I thought it was much more effective to go into a classroom and just play for that class.”

In addition to playing for the students, she would break apart the music and explain what she was playing and lead interactive singing and rhythm exercises to engage the students with music and introduce them to the world of classical music.

Whether it’s on stage, in the studio or in the classroom, Dinnerstein has shown no signs of slowing down and will continue to bring her piano talents to the masses.

Simone Dinnerstein and Baroklyn perform Saturday, June 15, at the Quogue Community Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 for adults, $110 with access to a post-concert celebration with the artists and $5 for students at The Quogue Community Hall is at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue.

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