Boulder Philharmonic continues 20–21 season Nov. 14 with ‘Beauty of Bach’

Guest conductor/pianist Simone Dinnerstein, flutist Christina Jennings, violinist Charles Wetherbee are featured

By Peter Alexander Nov. 12 at 5:30 p.m.

Simone Dinnerstein has garnered a reputation as a Bach pianist, dating at least from the 2007 release of her recording of the Goldberg Variations. And in “Beauty of Bach,” a program performed with members of the Boulder Philharmonic, she reveals a new facet of her career: Bach conductor.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Not only does she lead the orchestra in the keyboard concertos in the program—the Concerto in D minor and the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto—she also conducts two orchestral pieces—Philip Lasser’s arrangement of the chorale prelude Erbarm’ Dich and the Orchestral Suite in B minor. The latter two she conducts from the keyboard while playing continuo, the chordal accompaniment that is a feature of Baroque performance.

“I love so much of Bach’s music, not just the keyboard music, and I’m hoping that this is going to lead to more conducting,” Dinnerstein says. “I don’t yet feel comfortable to conduct without playing the piano, but I feel like I can transmit more through playing, even if I’m playing continuo.”

Charles Wetherbee

The performance was recorded at Boulder Airport in September for live streaming, and will be available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 14). Soloists with her for the Brandenburg Concerto are Charles Wetherbee, the Phil’s concertmaster, and flutist Christina Jennings, who also plays the flute solos in the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor.

The program is a repeat of one given by Dinnerstein and Jennings at Columbia University in February, just before the pandemic halted most concert activity. That performance, her first as conductor, featured Baroklyn, a string ensemble that Dinnerstein created for her own performances.

When Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Phil, asked Dinnerstein to participate in the orchestra’s ‘20–’21 streamed season, she immediately thought of the concert she had done with Jennings. “He wanted a Bach program,” she says. “I suggested that we do that program, because Christina lives (in Boulder).”

In assembling the original program for the February concert, Dinnerstein was sensitive to the flow from one piece to the next. “I think it’s interesting to start the program with something that is a very contemporary take on Bach,” she says. “And it moves very beautifully into the orchestral suite, so I like that connection between the two pieces.

Christina Jennings

Erbarm’ Dich was arranged by Philip Lasser, who is a fantastic composer and has a deep understanding of Bach’s music. This particular transcription sounds almost as much like his music as it does like Bach. He didn’t change any notes, but the way that he voices it, it’s in the style of Philip Lasser.

“I like the juxtaposition of the D minor Concerto and the D major Brandenburg Concerto. The whole program shows different sides of Bach’s music, from this very profound chorale prelude to the ebullient Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, which couldn’t be more fun.”

Although most live concerts since the February program in New York have been cancelled due to COVID-19, Dinnerstein has kept busy. “I’ve been doing concerts similar to the one in Boulder, where I am filmed and then they’re streamed,” she says. “So I’ve been doing a little bit of traveling.”

Whatever her reputation at this point, Dinnerstein does not want to be pigeonholed as a Bach pianist. “I don’t think of myself as a Bach specialist,” she says. “I love Bach, and I have recorded a lot of Bach, but I’m not somebody who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Bach. I would not call myself a Bach scholar.”

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

As for playing on the modern piano instead of a keyboard of Bach’s time, “There is a kind of abstraction to his music which is not instrument-specific,” she says. “He thought of music in a pure way.”

Like many musicians and other performing artists, she is looking forward to the days after COVID. She doesn’t want to guess how things will have changed in the meantime, however.

“I can’t quite process how it’s going to change our perception of concerts,” she says. “I think that it will certainly make us favor live concerts when we are able to attend them and perform at them.”

Like most of us, she has found both positive and negative aspects to the Zoom experience. In some ways it has enhanced her teaching. “I teach in New York, and I have students (in Asia) that I’ve never met in real life. I’ve been teaching them over Zoom for a few months now. It’s very striking how we’re getting a lot more work done than we did before.

“I think that all of this recording has made us listen more acutely to ourselves as musicians. There’s’ so much opportunity for reflection and there’s a lot more inward-looking action taking place—musically and in our lives in general—just because of this whole period of time.”

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Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

The Beauty of Bach
Simone Dinnerstein, pianist and conductor
Christina Jennings, flute, and Charles Wetherbee, violin

J.S. Bach/Philip Lasser: Erbarm Dich, S721
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, S1067
Keyboard Concerto in D minor, S1052
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major, S1050

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14. Ticket may be purchased here.

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