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Combining the piano solos of early-Romantic composer Franz Schubert and 20th century composer Philip Glass on the same program is rather unusual, but Simone Dinnerstein performed such a program, making ingenious connections between two seemingly different styles of music. These connections were made through her spoken explanations, program notes, and the order the selections were arranged. Most importantly, the common thread of Dinnerstein's intentionality and imagination united each piece in the concert to create a seamless experience.
Dinnerstein prefaced her program, which took place at Duke's Baldwin Auditorium, by explaining her reason for choosing these two composers. She found the primary commonality in Glass' and Schubert's "circularity": repeating patterns and lyric melodies returning again and again, slightly altered by subtle details that sometimes have wider ramifications. With an alternating format between the two composers, the program formed a sort of "dialogue" between them, with Dinnerstein as the expert mediator. Interestingly, she also encouraged the audience to "put the program on the floor," emphasizing her intention of creating a holistic experience.
Each half of the program was performed as an uninterrupted set; the first half consisted of Schubert's four classic Op. 90 Impromptus, juxtaposed one at a time with Philip Glass pieces. The first of these was Metamorphosis One, a meditation in decidedly circular format. However, before playing a single note, Dinnerstein waited a moment and seemed to listen for the silence and atmosphere of the concert hall before beginning. The contemplative melodic pattern and chord progression of Metamorphosis One began, building slightly through each repetition and creating a sense of familiarity so that when subtle changes occurred, they were not lost. This became increasingly prevalent towards the end when a new chord appeared, and Dinnerstein altered her expression here and there. Fascinatingly, the final notes of Metamorphosis One led right into Schubert's Impromptu Op. 90 No.1, consisting of a delicate melody that is later transformed through many variations in texture. The texture changes that occur in No. 1 require a detailed understanding of the many musical layers, but Dinnerstein made this complexity look relaxed and effortless.
Two of Glass' Etudes, Nos. 6 and 16, were sandwiched between consecutive Impromptus, and the similarities between the two composers' musical languages became more apparent. Glass' Etude No. 6 is sweeping and virtuosic, with many rapidly repeated notes that are exceptionally difficult. Schubert's Impromptu No. 2 has similar qualities, with rapid streams of notes in phrases that were expertly shaped. The next Etude and Impromptu, Nos. 16 and 3 respectively, provided more of a contrast between them. Glass' Etude No. 16 is mesmerizingly restless due to the uneven meter in sets of seven. This tension faded away when Dinnerstein began Impromptu No. 3's pure romantic melody. Moments of storminess in this impromptu faded away quickly in favor of a lush texture. Schubert's next Impromptu followed, combining elements of the previous three while also featuring a new mood of playfulness. Melody patterns reaching higher and higher were played with an ethereal beauty by Dinnerstein, especially when they became increasingly softer.
The second half of the program, also played without interruption, featured one more Glass Etude, No. 2, and Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat. Etude No. 2 is smooth and methodical, exploring the juxtaposition of different ranges of the piano. This sense of mindful exploration is exactly Simone Dinnerstein's style – every articulation and phrasing was purposeful and planned, while still appearing organically. The four movements of the Sonata feature repetition as well but are slightly more unpredictable at times – shifts between major and minor underscore a feeling of restlessness and insecurity, especially in the first movement. The third movement, a Scherzo, is a delightful departure from the underlying tension. Dinnerstein's communication of the different textures of each movement again seemed incredibly natural. The fourth movement, Allegro ma non troppo, featured the height of her intensity and immense power, especially in the sudden virtuosic ending measures. Overall, it was a varied yet intentionally connected concert.