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Interview

American pianist Simone Dinnerstein will perform Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (2017) with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi on the ‘Divine Geometry’ tour of Italy and Germany in September 2019.

Philip Glass wrote the concerto especially for Simone Dinnerstein, who gave the piece its world premiere in Boston in September 2017 and recorded it a few days later in a pairing with Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 7 in G minor, BWV 1058. An acclaimed Bach interpreter, Simone spoke to us about the links between Bach and Glass, and about working with Kristjan and making her debut with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic.

The ‘Divine Geometry’ programme juxtaposes Baroque and minimalism. What connections do you see between the two kinds of music, and how do these inform your approach to playing?

There is a variety of connections between Baroque music and minimalism. There is a strong interest in both periods with the patterns and sequences in the writing, and the idea that the rhythm of those patterns is very important. In Bach’s music he uses rhythmic patterns that are linked to melodic and harmonic patterns, and he uses rhythm as a motif. Glass and a lot of minimalists do this as well. Sometimes the rhythm itself is the theme, in a way. You also see the architecture of a piece being built from a small motif into what is usually a large structure. In their music both Bach and Glass deal with very small units and very large units at the same time.

As a performer of music from both periods, there are very few instructions to the interpreter about how to play the music, in terms of tempo, dynamics, articulation and expression. I find it interesting that both Bach and Glass have this in common. I wonder if part of it is because they both actually performed their own music – they were/are working instrumentalists as well as composers. I know from reading about Glass, and from talking to him too, that he feels that the person playing his music is the one creating it or bringing it to life, and that that person should have quite a lot of ownership of their interpretation.

You’ve played the Glass concerto many times since the world premiere, with lots of different ensembles and orchestras. Has this experience changed the way you think about and perform the piece?

I’ve never had an experience like this before – to play such a piece so many times with so many different orchestras in such a concentrated period of time (I’ve performed it more than 30 times already) is a unique experience. I’ve experienced the sense of it changing from moment to moment with each ensemble and conductor, or conductor-less ensemble. It’s fascinating how different people bring out different elements of the music. It’s been a lesson to me in being open, and allowing change to take place; when people want to play the piece in a way I don’t agree with, it’s still interesting to try it like that.

One of the conductors you’ve worked with on the concerto, and collaborated with on other projects, is Kristjan Järvi. What’s he like to work with, and what do you think of his musical approach?

He and I have very different approaches to music, which makes the chemistry of working with him really interesting. I think sometimes that’s the key thing – to work with people who are coming to the music from a very different place. He has a tremendous energy and charisma on the podium. And he tends to be very spontaneous in performance; things can change from rehearsal to performance, and he keeps you on your toes. He tends to move the music ahead more, while I tend to pull it back more, but I think this kind of push and pull when we work together gives a good energy to the music. He can get the musicians in an orchestra to be very responsive, and he quickly knows how to change something, which is the mark of really good conductor – that they can hone in on the exact issue that will make a whole phrase change. I’ve learned a lot by working with him.

What are you looking forward to about playing with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic?

I’ve worked before with Kristjan and his Absolute Ensemble, but it’s not a strictly classical sound that he’s going for with that group. So I’m curious to play with an orchestra that he created, and see how they play and how different that is from all the other orchestras I’ve worked with. Often it’s the most exciting and refreshing thing to play with younger musicians because they are the most open and the least jaded. I’ve worked with an orchestra from Cuba, the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, which was similarly an orchestra created by its conductor, and I could feel that the musicians in the orchestra were really keyed into one another and the conductor, and also to me as a soloist. It felt like we were one big chamber music group. I’m looking forward to experiencing that kind of feeling again with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic.

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