Anne Midgette, The New York Times
If you want to be a concert pianist when you grow up, there are certain rules. You do start playing as a young child. You don’t drop out of The Juilliard School. You do win competitions and get the attention of managers at a young age. You don’t end up at 30 with no management and no bookings, raising the money yourself for your first recording. And you definitely don’t make your New York recital debut with Bach’s demanding “Goldberg” Variations, which are supposed to reflect the wisdom of long experience, and Baroque style.
New York Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has made her career by breaking every rule in the book.
Ms. Dinnerstein’s recent recording of the Goldberg Variations displays her distinctive approach to the work: colorful and idiosyncratic, a contemporary pianist’s rather than a harpsichordist’s account. It starts with a long, thoughtful, hesitant Aria that seems to be struggling to lift itself uncertainly out of silence.
But precisely because she puts such an individual stamp on her performances, Ms. Dinnerstein’s interpretations have won a lot of critical attention.
Allan Kozinn, writing in The New York Times, called Ms. Dinnerstein’s account of the “Goldbergs” at her sold-out Weill Recital Hall debut in November 2005 “an individual, compelling performance,” making use of “a level of coloration beyond the palette Bach knew.”
It is not usual for a self-produced album to end up on a major label, much less through the intervention of a critic.
David Patrick Stearns, music critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer, was the one who sent Ms. Dinnerstein’s self-produced recording of the work to Telarc. But Ms. Dinnerstein, who projects a kind of grounded calm, has all along followed her own path, and her own convictions.
“People were very discouraging when they heard the idea,” she said, sitting at her dining table on the ground floor of her house in Park Slope, Brooklyn, her hands wrapped around a mug of herbal tea. “But I thought, somebody’s going to hear it, and they’re going to hear what is different about this recording, and it’s all going to work out.”
Ms. Dinnerstein has gone after what she wanted since she first begged her parents for piano lessons at age 4, and they started her on the recorder instead. Her father, the painter Simon Dinnerstein, knew little about music. She finally began lessons at 7 — late in life for a future pianist — and her parents ultimately sent her to Solomon Mikowsky at the Manhattan School of Music precollege program.
At 15, during a high school trip to London, she auditioned for Maria Curcio, a student of Artur Schnabel who had taught Radu Lupu and Mitsuko Uchida. She also met Jeremy Greensmith, six years her senior, with whom she bonded over a love of Glenn Gould. She wanted to stay, but her parents thought she was too young to be away from home. (They also nixed a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.)
So she waited until she was 18, when she dropped out of The Juilliard School to return to London, study with Ms. Curcio and live with Mr. Greensmith, to whom she has now been married for 14 years.