United States Couperin, Danielpour: Simone Dinnerstein (piano). Death of Classical, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, 16.9.2021. (RP)
Couperin – ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses’
Danielpour – An American Mosaic; three Bach transcriptions
Simone Dinnerstein found solace during the pandemic in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. In the nineteenth century, when green space was as valued as it was during the past eighteen months, it was one of America’s most popular tourist attractions. The cemetery affords spectacular views of Manhattan, but Dinnerstein encouraged people to take in those of Brooklyn from one of its higher vantage points. She lives nearby, close to the hospital in which she was born, and is undoubtedly one of the borough’s biggest promoters and most treasured artistic assets.
In early 2020, composer Richard Danielpour was coping with the realization that, should he contract COVID-19, he had only a 30% chance of surviving it due to preexisting conditions. Unable to sleep due to the anxiety that elicited, he found release in listening to Dinnerstein’s Bach recordings. Out of that, he began to conceive of a work for solo piano that would somehow provide comfort to others who had suffered and struggled through the pandemic.
Danielpour mentioned the idea to Dinnerstein when he called to tell her of the therapeutic effect that her recordings had on him. A week later, the Oregon Bach Festival commissioned him to write the work that became An American Mosaic. He completed it over two months during the summer of 2020, and Dinnerstein premiered it in a streamed performance last December.
Green-Wood Cemetery has been more than an outdoor space affording an escape for locked-down Brooklynites during the pandemic. It was also one of the few venues in New York City where music was being presented with live audiences in attendance. If essential means being there when you are needed most, The Angel’s Share concert series has been crucial to the city’s artistic life during the pandemic.
Inclement weather required some changes to this particular evening’s performance but, despite a few raindrops, the audience meandered through the cemetery, pausing to listen to Dinnerstein perform at two outside stops along the route and inside the cemetery’s Catacombs. In her introductory remarks, she advised us not to get caught up in the acoustical shortcomings of the outdoors, but rather to view the concert as an immersive experience where the ambient noises, both natural and manmade, were part of the musical journey.
Dinnerstein’s singular artistry was apparent whether she was playing an electronic keyboard, an upright or a baby grand piano. At the first stop, she performed Couperin’s ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses’. The meaning of its title is a mystery, but the work, which was originally conceived for solo harpsichord, is a kaleidoscope of texture and harmony. Performing on a keyboard, Dinnerstein summoned the vitality of this fascinating work with the skyscrapers of Manhattan as the backdrop.
In An American Mosaic, Danielpour pays tribute to people who are the heroes of our time – caretakers, research physicians, parents and children, rabbis and ministers, doctors and interns, teachers and students. He also commemorates the Black lives lost during the pandemic in the movement entitled ‘Prophets & Martyrs’; and comments on the tumults of the Trump administration in ‘The Visible Enemy’. At the heart of the work, however, are four ‘Consolations’, which serve to unify the whole.
The music that Danielpour created is eclectic and melodious. Stylistically, he is grounded in twentieth-century America – Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein – and plumbs the extremes of range and dynamics throughout the work, capturing the tumult of the times. Dinnerstein performed a little over half of it outdoors on an upright piano and the rest on a baby grand in the Catacombs. Whether surrounded by nature or in the confines of a subterranean vault, she made an impact through her connection with the music and her expressive, eloquent interpretation.
Dinnerstein concluded the concert by playing three Bach transcriptions that Danielpour had created for her in gratitude, and at her prompting to fill out the recording of An American Mosaic. He chose movements from two of Bach’s choral masterpieces: a chorale, ‘Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden’, and the final chorus of the St. Matthew Passion; and the ‘Agnus Dei’ from the Mass in B minor. In each of the transcriptions, Danielpour captured the essence of these complex, profound pieces. Dinnerstein’s performances of them were mesmerizing.