When Simone Dinnerstein joins the Princeton Symphony Orchestra for a concert on Jan. 28, she will perform a piano concerto written for her by the renown American composer Philip Glass. Glass is known for his operas, such as "Satyagraha" and "Einstein on the Beach," and scores to films including “Koyaanisqatsi” and “The Hours.”
The new concerto by Glass is a co-commission for which Dinnerstein arranged a consortium of 12 orchestras, each of which contributed to the commission and will perform the concerto with Dinnerstein, making the Jan. 28 concert at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton the New Jersey premiere of the work by a major composer. It will be the fifth performance of the Glass concerto. Princeton Symphony Orchestra will be the third orchestra Dinnerstein performs the work with in concert.
“I first met Philip Glass a couple of years ago when he actually invited me to his home for breakfast," Dinnerstein says. "During that breakfast, we talked about various things, and one thing we talked about was the possibility of him writing something for me. Then I thought it would be interesting if he could write a concerto for piano and string orchestra because there really haven't been many concertos for that combination since Bach's time. And I think that's a really interesting sonority.”
In talking with Glass, Dinnerstein had the idea of pairing the new concerto with Bach's third concerto for keyboard and string.
“He liked the idea, and I chose this particular Bach concerto in G minor," Dinnerstein says. "So he knew when he was writing the piece that I would be playing his concerto alongside this particular Bach concerto.”
Dinnerstein says the commission process varies from composer to composer. In Glass' case, while he shared the first movement with her after he wrote it, he didn't talk with her about the work during the writing process.
“I left him to do what he was going to do," she says. "We got together at the end, he sent me the music in July, and I had about two weeks with it. Then I went into the studio to play it for him, just the piano part without the orchestra. Then he made more changes, based on hearing me play it.
“It's very exciting. He's a composer who's really an American icon. I grew up listening to his music and I certainly never imagined that he would write a piece of music for me. The concerto that he wrote is just beyond anything I had even imagined. It's an incredibly beautiful piece of music and it's really exciting to play it.”
She also has recorded the Glass and Bach concertos for an album release. She wanted to pair the two pieces because of the harmonic relationships between them.
“The general sonority is similar because of it being piano and strings for both concertos," she says. "But he describes his relationship with Bach as Bach having become incorporated into his own writing style over the years. When he was a young man he studied with the great composition teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris. They studied Bach together very intensively, and this is during a period of time when Philip Glass was shaping his own musical language. I think he feels that everything that he writes is a reflection of this deep study that he had of Bach's music and that he continues to have.”
Even before this commission, Dinnerstein had been exploring Glass’ music, playing solo piano music of his and juxtaposing it with music by Schubert.
“I feel like I've been getting under the skin of his music," she says. "I feel a very deep connection to Philip Glass' music, I guess in the same way I feel a connection to Bach's music, so playing Bach and Glass together seems like a natural combination to me.”
Dinnerstein grew up in New York. Her father, Simon Dinnerstein, is an artist. She says she’s had strong feelings for music and piano from a very young age.
“It just came from me, my parents didn't start me on an instrument, I requested to play the piano and I always had a commitment to it that just came from myself," she says. "At the same time, my dad is a visual artist. He's a painter, so I grew up in a household where I was watching someone who based his whole life on having that kind of commitment to his work, creative work. I'm sure I was influenced by him.”
Dinnerstein’s name also is familiar to fans of "The Howard Stern Show." She and Stern co-host Robin Quivers are friends and Quivers has been known to mention Dinnerstein’s music on the show — plugging Dinnerstein’s acclaimed recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, for example. Dinnerstein has performed on Sirius XM satellite radio's classical music channels, but doesn’t have the service, so she’s never heard Quivers mention her on the show, which isn’t exactly known for discussions of classical music.
“It's funny because I don't have Sirius at home," she says. "I have friends who say 'They were talking about you today.' I don't know if it's had any impact. Robin is a friend of mine and I just found out she's been talking about me, and I think it's really hysterically funny because it doesn't seem like a typical topic for them to speak about on 'The Howard Stern Show.' But I'm really happy for people to discover classical music however they can.”
Dinnerstein also will participate in a masterclass, presented by PSO's BRAVO! education arm, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. The masterclass is free and open to the general public, and will be held at Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College. Attendees will observe four piano students as they are coached on artistry and performance technique. The masterclass is presented in partnership with Westminster Conservatory, the community music school of Westminster College of the Arts of Rider University.
The Princeton Symphony Orchestra and Simone Dinnerstein will perform Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 7 in G Minor and a new concerto by Philip Glass at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus, Jan. 28, 4 p.m. For tickets and information, go to www.princetonsymphony.org or call 609-497-0020.