The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein pays homage to the late Canadian songwriter, singer and poet Leonard Cohen with theme and variations on the song “Suzanne”

November 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Leonard Cohen (below), the acclaimed Canadian songwriter, singer and poet, died at in his home in Los Angeles last Thursday at the age of 82.

leonard-cohen-singing

Cohen was not a major figure in classical music.

But even as a young artist (below) in the 1960s, he inspired many musicians, including classical musicians, who covered his songs. (You can hear him singing his most influential song “Hallelujah” in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has more than 41 million views.)

leonard-cohen-young-in-1960s

Here is a link to an obituary in Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/leonard-cohen-dead-at-82-w449792

For example, pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below), who made her name with a self-financed recording of the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach — has paid tribute to Cohen with a set of piano variations (called “The Cohen Variations”) on the song “Suzanne,” which was popularized by the folk and pop singer Judy Collins.

simone dinnerstein2.

A recording of that work is featured on the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio.

Here is a link to it:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/11/501693707/a-new-twist-on-the-leonard-cohen-classic-suzanne

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Classical music: Why can’t I like the piano playing of J.S. Bach by Simone Dinnerstein? Plus the UW and Sun Prairie High School Wind Ensembles team up tonight for a FREE concert of music by Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty.

November 30, 2012
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ALERT: At 8 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble with the Wind Ensemble from Sun Prairie High School, and conductors Scott Teeple of the UW and Steve Sveum of Sun Prairie High School, will perform a FREE concert featuring several compositions by Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty (below), composer-in-residence, who will be attending the concert. A free pre-concert discussion will be held at 7:15 . The program features “Motown Metal” by Daugherty (Madison Premiere); “Bells for Stokowski” by Michael Daugherty (Madison Premiere); the combined UW Wind Ensemble and Sun Prairie High School Wind Ensemble in “Country Gardens” by Percy Grainger/Rogers; “Blithe Bells” by Percy Grainger; and the Sun Prairie High School performance in “On the Air” by Michael Daugherty (Madison premiere).

By Jacob Stockinger

Then there is pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below) – pronounced “Simona Dinnersteen.”

I really want to like her playing.

Mostly because I really like her story.

She beat the odds and she beat the system.

I like that Dinnerstein attended Juilliard, where she studied with Peter Serkin; that she graduated, start teaching piano lessons privately while she began her family; and that she herself then established her own busy international career in these days when most soloists need to win a competitions or generate controversy to get a big name agent and big money contracts.

Dinnerstein did it by financing a her own recording of J.S. Bach’s monumental “Goldberg” Variations. It was received well by critics – though not by me — and sold well. So she got a regular contract, first with Telarc and now with Sony Classical. Her datebook of tour bookings is now filled years in advance.

She became an in-demand star with a following far and wide.

We have already heard her twice in Madison, once in a solo recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, when she played Bach, Schubert and Phillip Lasser; then with the Madison Symphony Orchestra when she played Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. Both appearances disappointed me overall, thought hey had some high points.

But Dinnerstein sure sells a lot of recordings and plays a lot of concerts. She is a certified phenomenon.

So what is wrong? Is it me? Or is it her?

Here is a link to a fine profile with lots of background on Simone Dinnerstein:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/28/arts/music/28simo.html

It’s just her playing, not her, I can’t stand.

And I have tried.

But it is just too ponderous, too self-indulgent for my taste. I am especially turned off by her Bach, which is supposed to be her specialty.

The very qualities I don’t like were well perceived by the New York Times reviewer Vivien Schweitzer, who heard phrases extended to the breaking point with self-consciously expressive mannerisms and senselessly slow tempi. Look at her take on Dinnerstein, which is the second review in the group:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/arts/music/philippe-entremont-conducts-simone-dinnerstein-performs-music-by-ezequiel-vinao.html

Decide for yourself. Here is a link to recent live performance in an NPR studio (below).

The NPR mini-concert features Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, which is also included on her latest CD:

See if you can make it all the way through the performance of “Bach Between the Notes.” The Ear, who would just prefer better notes without so much in-betweenness, could not.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/10/18/163096165/simone-dinnersteins-bach-between-the-notes

What do you think of Simone Dinnerstein and her Bach?

Leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will broadcast the “Open Goldberg Variations” of J.S. Bach on this Sunday afternoon. You can listen and follow the score at the same time.

June 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Wisconsin Public Radio, which has historically been deeply devoted to building a broad audience for classical music, has a special mixed media treat in store for listeners this weekend.

The public radio network will broadcast the “Open Goldberg Variations” project this Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m. (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area). It features a piano performance plus a “public domain” score so you can follow along on the Internet as the music is played.

The performance is by Kimiko Ishizaka (below), and has been turned into an app.

It is ironic the mammoth theme-and-variations work by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) has become so popular and iconic. And there is something deeply moving about the aria that opens and closes the work.

Back in 1955, when the legendary and eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (below top) was 25, he used the Goldbergs for his Columbia Records debut. But many company executives and critics doubted that he would succeed with such an inaccessible and difficult  work.

Yet his energetic and ear-opening version of the Goldbergs, with its dizzying finger work and infectious rhythmic drive, became a big bestselling landmark that launched an unforgettable career. Gould went on to record just about all keyboard works of Bach; and later in life (below bottom) he started a re-recording project of the same works that began in 1981 with, but never got beyond, a second and completely different version of the Goldbergs. Then he died of a stroke at 50 in 1982.

And since then, many pianists have chosen the Goldbergs to make their mark, including Simone Dinnerstein who made a bestselling version of them to launch how now burgeoning concert and recording career.

Here is a link to a Wisconsin Public Radio website with details of the Sunday afternoon broadcast:

http://opengoldberg.wpr.org/

And here is a link to more background about the project:

http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/

And if you still aren’t convinced, here is a link to a composer’s very positive review of the Open Goldberg project:

http://crazycomposer.blogspot.com/2012/05/open-goldberg-variations-recording.html

And here are two more links to many – as in thousands — very positive reviews, many of which stress the vicarious quality of the performance, of the iTunes, iPhone and iPad app:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/open-goldberg-variations/id529060306?mt=8

http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/reviews


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