Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein Debuts Richard Danielpour’s Haunting, Guardedly Hopeful, Historic Lockdown-Themed New Suite

Imagine your doctor telling you that because you have asthma, odds are seventy percent that you won’t survive the seasonal flu.

That’s what composer Richard Danielpour‘s doctor told him in the early days of the lockdown. The good news is that Danielpour, along with hundreds of millions of other asthmatics, emerged alive. But during those grim months a year ago when so many citizens around the world had no idea if they’d ever be able to leave their homes without being shot, Danielpour was understandably distraught. He was able to find solace in Simone Dinnerstein‘s recordings of J.S. Bach – and, inspired by those albums, wrote a suite of his own for her

The result, American Mosaic, is streaming at Spotify. It’s a visceral, intensely focused attempt to transcend the psychological torture pretty much everyone endured before the science debunking the lockdowners’ terror propaganda came to light. Not only is this riveting and often haunting music, it’s important history.

A spare miniature, the first of four “consolations,” opens the suite: Dinnerstein plays it with guarded hope, but horror erupts at the end. She gives the brief second and longer third variations a muted woundedness, a clock-chime theme moving along steadily, yet with all sense of time being lost. The final one has somewhat more robust harmonies but also more of a funereal atmosphere, Dinnerstein leaving plenty of breathing room for both the somber lefthand and the slow parade overhead to linger, quietly but eventfully.

Part of the lockdowner agenda, of course, involved arbitrarily deciding who was “essential,” and who was not, a practice taken from the Nazi death camps where able-bodied workers were sometimes initially spared, and women, children and the elderly were sent to the gas chamber.

Danielpour dedicates several of the suite’s segments to groups of hardworking individuals, both essential and worthless by lockdowner standards, who kept the world going, Caretakers and research physicians get a chiming, purposeful intertwining theme. Parents and their kids bound around in a momentary distraction, as do documentary filmmakers, photographers, teachers and students: at least someone’s having fun here! Rabbis and ministers receive a resonant but enigmatically expectant, Debussy-esque salute.

Dinnerstein gets to revel in some precise but difficult boogie-woogie in a shout-out to writers, journalists and poets: thanks, guys! The closest thing to a love theme here is dedicated to doctors and interns, yet trouble lurks just outside. Prophets and martyrs are acknowledged soberly, in the suite’s most spacious, Satie-esque moment.

The visible enemy is portrayed as very calm and determined in the beginning, but this illuminati of clowns can’t get their story straight. To Danielpour, at the time, the invisible one was just as steady but more phantasmagorical: it’s the suite’s most chilling interlude. An Elegy For Our Time comes across as more of a wistful reminiscence of better days.

Dinnerstein winds up the record with three Danielpour transcriptions of Bach works: a gentle, cautiously prayerful take of the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B minor, a famous Aria theme from the St. Matthew Passion reinvented as a delicate dirge, and a more heroic yet carefully paced epilogue from that same suite. After all we’ve been through in the past year, the hope Danielpour alludes to here seems within our reach.

April 2, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Night to Remember with Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein

Earlier generations might not be able to handle the concept of of juxtaposing Appalachian and classical music on the same stage. But songwriter/bandleader Tift Merritt and pianist Simone Dinnerstein have their fingers on the pulse of the future. Thursday night at their sold-out duo performance at Merkin Concert Hall, they held the crowd riveted with an intense, intimate performance that put each musician’s strengths under the microscope as they made unexpected connections between traditions from throughout the ages on both sides of the pond, Dinnerstein’s fiery baroque and Romantic interludes juxtaposed against Merritt’s elegantly plaintive chamber pop. Most of the material was drawn from the two’s nocturnal song suite, Night, just released (and reviewed at Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily).

The stage set foreshadowed what the concert would be: a pair of comfortable padded chairs at either side of the stage in low light from a couple of floor lamps. Merritt teased the crowd – “We’re not going to talk to you …we’re still not going to talk to you” – as the two made their way from Schumann, through a solo acoustic version of Merritt’s  plaintive Only in Songs, then glimmering themes by Schubert and Purcell. Dinnerstein’s gravitas and flinty irony balances Merritt’s biting wit and mercurial persona: they are very different peas in the same pod and obviously good friends. Merritt has established herself as a southern intellectual in the tradition of Faulkner and Welty; Dinnerstein represents for the old guard. Of the many eye-opening moments at this concert, the most impressive were when the two ventured into jazz, with a take of Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain that was so sensual it was lurid, and a bit later an expansive, commissioned work from Brad Mehldau, I Shall Weep. Swing is a rare quality in a classical musician, but Dinnerstein has it: both she and Merritt have futures in jazz if they feel like it.

But it’s more likely that they’ll continue to cross-pollinate. Dinnerstein revealed a fondness for George Crumb and played resonant dulcimer lines inside the piano behind Merritt’s finely nuanced, wary mezzo-soprano. Merritt told how Dinnerstein had introduced her to an operatic rendition of the English folk ballad I Will Give My Love an Apple that Merritt instantly recognized from its slightly less antique American folk version – and then they played it as moody, lingering  art-rock. The biggest hit of the night was Dinnerstein’s rapidfire romp through the Allemande and Courante (make that tres courante) from Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G Major. Although Merritt admitted to being shy about playing the piano in front of her bandmate, she impressed with her own tersely brooding, gospel-fueled take of Small Talk Relations.

Dinnerstein’s subtle dynamic shifts followed a trajectory from bittersweetly neoromantic to bracingly modern throughout Daniel Felsenfeld’s Cohen Variations, a suite based on Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. After Merritt sang a rapt, quiet version of Patty Griffin’s Night, the concert reached its peak with the poignant, crescendoing, saturnine anthem Feel of the World, which Merritt had written for her well-traveled grandmother. The duo encored with a very clever mashup of Gabriel Faure’s Apres un Reve with La Vie en Rose, which Merritt sang in flawless French. The two are soon off on US tour; the schedule is here. Dinnerstein is also at the Greene Space for an on-air performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on March 28 at noon; the performance is free but tickets are required.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment