Simone Dinnerstein brings performance magic and a new piece to Boulder

Concerto by Philip Glass receives standing ovation at Macky Auditorium

By Peter Alexander Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein brought her deep sensitivity and considerable magic to Macky Auditorium last night, performing a remarkable new piano concerto by Philip Glass with the string sections of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman.

Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was written for Dinnerstein, and her Boulder performance was part of the world premiere tour of the concerto. It is a major work that should achieve considerable success with audiences in the years to come, as it did last night in Macky.

Glass’s characteristic gestures are easily found in the score, but they have been transfigured. His usual pulsing rhythms are more gentle, serving and supporting melody and harmony. The music has an emotional immediacy throughout, and the third movement in particular has moments of seductive beauty. The ending is extended, creating a hypnotic, almost ritualistic quality around lovely bits of melody. The slow unfolding of these final thoughts quietly recalls compelling passages from Glass’s previous works.


Philip Glass

At 80, Glass is entitled to write with a more valedictory and consoling tone, but there are likely two specific reasons for the nature of this piece. First, it was written for Dinnerstein. When she told Glass how much it fit her playing and her personality, he said “Well, I wrote it for you.” It’s hard to know how her influence manifests itself, but I heard a deep poeticism and introspective lyricism, qualities associated with Dinnerstein’s playing that also mark many moments in the concerto.

The other reason is the influence of J.S. Bach, a composer Dinnerstein is renowned for playing and whose Keyboard Concerto in G minor will be paired with the Glass on the current tour. There are no quotes or direct echoes of that specific piece in the Glass score, but I found it notable that the music is shaped largely by harmonic patterns, as if it were based on a Bach-like chorale, but one that wanders into unpredictable turns and paths.

Dinnerstein had both the notes and the inner life of the piece well under her fingers. Playing with evident love for the concerto, she found depths of expression in the music, including some of the simpler moments technically. Her playing was ably supported by Butterman and the Phil.

Not everyone loves Glass, but for me the performance was deeply moving, revealing both the quiet humanity of the composer and the commitment of the soloist. Standing ovations are de rigueur in Boulder, but this one seemed especially heartfelt.

The rest of the program was musically fascinating—a symphony by C.P.E., son of J.S. Bach, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) on the fist half, and J.S. Bach’s G minor Concerto preceding the Glass. However, all three works, calling for only strings, suffered the same fate of being swallowed by Macky Auditorium’s unforgiving acoustics. Small ensembles, and strings in particular, invariably sound distant and a little cold in the hall.

The C.P.E. Bach Symphony received a refined performance, with transparent textures, and a smooth transition between the first two movements. But the characteristics of C.P.E. Bach’s mid-18th-century Rococo style, the use of sudden and shocking harmonic jolts and unexpected stops and starts, lost the larger share of its impact in the hall. The more’s the pity: C.P.E. Bach is a fascinating composer who should spice up any program—but only if the effects land with the audience.

Butterman introduced Schoenberg’s piece with a useful listener’s guide to the main ideas of the music, and how they are laid out in the score. One of the great musical/emotional outpourings of the late Romantic musical style, Verklärte Nacht portrays a passionate story of forgiveness and redemption, in which a dark and gloomy forest path is transfigured into a glittering scene of starlit beauty by the power of love.

The audience is meant to be enveloped in the lush harmonies of the score, and indeed I could see that the orchestra was playing with great intensity. Alas, the sound again was swallowed by the hall. It was well conducted and well played by the orchestra, but from Row U, it sounded all too polite and restrained to fit a story of passion.

The performance of J.S. Bach’s G-minor Concerto was a little cotton-woolish in the orchestra when more lean muscle would serve the music better, but likely this is another manifestation of Macky’s acoustics. Dinnerstein played with a clear sense of line and overall form. With a Steinway grand and modern string instruments, this was not a historically-informed performance, but Bach’s music is so ideal in conception that it does not depend on the medium.

All other issues aside, Dinnerstein, Butterman and the Boulder Phil scored a great success with the Glass Concerto. It’s only January, but that should be on any list of the year’s highlights.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein returns to the Boulder Phil for new concerto

Philip Glass wrote his Third Piano Concerto for his former young fan

By Peter Alexander

The first time Simone Dinnerstein attended a concert alone she was 12, and she heard music by Philip Glass. Lisa-Marie Mazzocco

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Marie Mazzocco.

Dinnerstein has since become an internationally known concert pianist and Glass has turned 80. And remarkably, he has now written a new piano concerto for his former young fan, which she will play Jan 13 and 14 for her return to the Boulder Phil.

“It’s exciting when you discover music as a young person, and it’s your own music that has not been shown to you by a parent or a teacher,” Dinnerstein says. “So there is something kind of surreal about having him write something for me! And the fact that he wrote something as magnificent as this piano concerto is really an incredible honor.

“I can’t quite digest the fact that he wrote that for me.”

Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 will be on a program titled “Bach Transfigured.” The concert, featuring the orchestra’s strings under music director Michael Butterman, will also feature the Symphony in C Major by C.P.E. Bach, Transfigured Night by Arnold Schoenberg, and J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor.

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“Bach Transfigured”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Simone Dinnerstein, piano

C.P.E. BACH  Symphony in C Major, Wq 183, no.. 3
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG  Transfigured Night
J.S. BACH  Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV 1058
PHILIP GLASS  Piano Concerto No. 3
     Colorado premiere, a Boulder Phil co-commission

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, Macky Auditorium
2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, Pinnacle Performing Arts Complex, Denver



Pro Musica Colorado presents a rich exploration of sound and expression

By Peter Alexander

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado

The Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed a concert of music for strings last night (Feb. 7) with pieces that were inspired by poetry, by earlier music, and by nature.

Cynthia Katsarelis conducted Pro Musica’s string sections with both intensity and control. The performance proved to be a beautiful and rich exploration of sound and expression.

All three pieces on the program—Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons,” and the world premiere of . . . I give you my sprig of lilac by CU composition student Daniel Cox—originated in roughly the past 100 years, and all three impressed with the depth and breadth of sound that a string ensemble can produce.

The program opened with Cox’s brief, elegiac score. The winner of a composition competition, Cox turned to Walt Whitman’s memorial poem for Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” for inspiration. The title comes from lines in the poem, describing the passage of Lincoln’s coffin through the streets: “With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang,/Here coffin that slowly passes,/I give you my sprig of lilac.”

The sound is warm and comforting as the music gradually emerges, swells, then trails into silence. The obvious comparison is of the funeral cortege slowly passing, but it would undervalue the music to hear it only in pictorial terms. Cox has written a polished and assured work that reaches deeper levels of emotion and honors Whitman’s poem.

The earliest piece on the program was Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia, finalized 1919 and inspired by the music of the 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis. The score harkens back to the idyllic days before the First World War, expressing the very apotheosis of the English pastoral style that emerged from the composer’s study of folk song.

The performance by Katsarelis and the Pro Musica players was impressive for both the fullness of sound—the sheer volume—that can be achieved by a small group of string players, and by the careful control of the music’s contour. Katsarelis loves to talk about the “journey” of each piece; here that journey was clearly delineated in her interpretation.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

The second half of the concert was filled by Glass’s Concerto, written as a companion for the much loved Four Seasons concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. Although Glass has declined to indentify which seasons the individual movements represent, there is a sense of a journey—that word again!—through time and the stages of the year. And while Glass sticks mostly to the stylistic paths that he has long followed in his career, the music is varied in its expressive content and always rewarding.

Yumi Hwang-Williams. Photo by r r jones

Yumi Hwang-Williams. Photo by r r jones

The concerto’s eloquent soloist was Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony and an accomplished solo artist and chamber musician. She was equally impressive in the solo part’s seamless long lines, the breathless pianissimos, and the cascading arpeggios for which Glass is so well known.

Katsarelis and Pro Music provided full-bodied support, with great rhythmic propulsion when needed, the requisite chugging that never flagged in the lower parts, and delicately balanced chords in the gentler moments. This is a style that we do not hear often in Boulder, and it was delightful to hear Glass’s music so enthusiastically championed.

But which season is which? I have my ideas, but you won’t find an answer here. As a Buddhist, Glass likely honors the journey over the destination. So you will have to find your own answers; I would not deny my readers that personal journey of discovery.

Pro Musica Colorado Offers Four Seasons, But Can’t Say Which is Which

Also on the program: World Premiere by CU student Daniel Cox

By Peter Alexander

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

The Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra will perform Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2: “The American Four Seasons,” but don’t ask which season each movement represents.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis explains that the composer left it up to the listener to decide: “The concerto was commissioned by violinist Robert McDuffie,” she says. “But when McDuffie and Glass got together, they didn’t agree on which parts went with which season.

“Glass saw that as an opportunity for the listener to make their own interpretation—and that’s the invitation to our audience.”

yumi-hipThe performances (Friday, Feb. 6, in Denver and Saturday, Feb. 7, in Boulder, both at 7:30 p.m.) will feature violinist Yumi Hwang Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony as soloist. Other works on the program will be the world premiere of . . . I Give you my Sprig of Lilac by CU composition student Daniel Cox, and the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Katsarelis thinks that Hwang-Williams is the ideal interpreter for Glass’s concerto. “Yumi’s appetite for music goes beyond the orchestral,” Katasrelis says.

“She is a concertmaster who runs the full gamut of repertoire, as concerto soloist she runs the gamut, she has particular experience in the contemporary repertoire, and she’s a formidable chamber musician. All of that comes to bear in making her one of the most fabulously intelligent and deep feeling soloists that you could have.”

Read the full article in Boulder Weekly.

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Cynthia Katsarelis and the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orcehstra

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orcehstra

“American Seasons”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, St. John’s Cathedral, 1350 Washington St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

Click here for tickets; or call 720-443-0565