glass notes
The Artistry of Simone Dinnerstein: Schubert, Philip Glass, and Bach

The pianist Simone Dinnerstein came to my attention about a decade ago for her belated ascension to become one of the most prominent pianists of our time.   The story that had been going around was about this interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations which had come out of nowhere – arguably the most impactful recording of the iconic set of variations since Glenn Gould.

Watch CBS News’s:  Simone Dinnerstein – Variations on Musical Stardom

Furthermore, Dinnerstein seemed to be a self-starter, an incredibly hard worker, and an artist willing to take risks both artistically and professionally.  I have been surveying her career ever since and been pleasantly surprised at each turn.  The normal path for someone who has a smashing success is to do more of the same thing.  While there has been a core-value of Bach’s music in her activity, there’s also into Gerswhin, Ravel, Beethoven, into music by living composers by commissioning a beautiful a new concerto from composer Philip Lasser, and even a collaboration with singer/songwriter Tift Merritt.

So I was thrilled yesterday to see an advance piece on her Mother’s Day recital in Albuquerque this weekend which features a program by kindred spirits Franz Schubert and Philip Glass.  I’m not the only one who has noticed the spiritual connection between Schubert and Glass’s music.  This is a program that she will be carrying forward to other cities over the next year.

Towards the end of the Albuquerque article, there’s a small aside near the end which states, “Dinnerstein said Glass is currently composing a concerto for her that will premiere in about a year. He’s writing it to be paired with a Bach keyboard concerto.”

The interconnectedness of this story feels so right it’s uncanny.  It’s easy to remark upon the hardworking self-starting pianist and the hardworking self-starting composer. It’s well known that Glass and Schubert share a common birthday of January 31st. Digging deeper into Glass’s years upon years of studying Bach counterpoint in Paris in the mid-1960s – there’s a poetic thrust and logic to a touring solo recital program Glass/Schubert leading into 2017 and a new concerto for one of the highest operating soloists in the world today who specializes in the music of Bach.  In fact Glass and Dinnerstein shared the screen in Michael Lawrence’s film Bach & Friends:

Dinnerstein on Bach:

Glass on Bach:

Glass’s piano concertos all all very different. I’m considering the Tirol concerto for piano and strings, Piano Concerto No.2 “After Lewis and Clark”, and the recent Concerto for Two Pianos.  The Tirol Concerto from 2000 was commissioned by the tourist board of the Tyrol in the Austrian Alps.  The main connection to the Tyrol is the loose incorporation of the traditional song “Maria, Hilf doch Mir” in the introduction to the first movement:

Glass’ second piano concerto from 2004 is again connected to tradition. This time it was the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s trek across the North American continent. In the second movement Glass uses the native american flute to evoke Lewis and Clark’s accomplice Sacagawea.

The recent Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is cut from a totally different cloth.  The piece belongs firmly to Glass’s recent music and to his recent ways of composing concertos which has moved away from extreme concertante solo writing.  Since the Second Violin Concerto Glass seems to be searching for a new way to present the relationship between soloist and orchestra.  In the Tirol Concerto, the soloist conducts from the keyboard.  In the Lewis & Clark Concerto an entire movement is given over to a flute soloist!, and in this recent Double Piano Concerto the pianos clearly act as the center of a big piano band.  These are all departures from the traditional role of heroic and virtuosic soloist positioned against the orchestra.

So the (unconfirmed) prospect of Glass writing a new piano concerto to be paired with Bach’s keyboard concertos is an exciting prospect.  While harmonically connected to Schubert, the Bachian element in Glass is hard to ignore.  The most oversimplified way of hearing Glass’s music would be simply to say that it’s a mash-up of Indian classical music and the music of J.S. Bach.  Most astutely one would say that there’s a certain compositional preoccupation in both composers’ music; There’s an instrumental neutrality to both composers which is why you can perform almost all of their music on different instruments and it will always sound good, or at the very least it will work. Most of the time it’s about architecture and structure more than about instrumentation or color.

While the only information I have is that Glass is currently at work on his Eleventh Symphony. It’s with great anticipation that I wait for his Piano Concerto (No.3, No.4?)

Leave a Reply