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Guest DJ: Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a passion for rhythmically free musical lines.
Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Courtesy of the artist
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a passion for rhythmically free musical lines.

Simone Dinnerstein is an introvert, an extrovert and a risk taker all rolled up into one pretty amazing pianist.

"My husband thinks I'm a gambler," she admits to me in the studio, as we get ready to spin some of her favorite records. "If there's an option that's a little crazy but could work incredibly well, I will take that option."

Dinnerstein's biggest gamble came a few years back when she decided to self-finance and produce her own recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Few, even in the classical world, knew her name at the time, but the Goldbergs changed all that. The recording became a popular and critical success and suddenly a major career was launched at the remarkably advanced age of 35.

"It was very unexpected and I still haven't quite gotten over it and still don't understand exactly what has happened," Dinnerstein says, in a soft, thoughtful voice.

Since then she's a pianist in demand. She signed a handsome record deal with Sony Classical and her concerts are routinely praised in terms of intellect and technique. Here's Washington Post critic Robert Battey, reviewing her Washington recital last week: "Her sound, while varied and colorful, has a trancelike quality. The imagination, particularly in slow music, is extraordinary. The Lisztian anguish in the Sarabande of Bach's English Suite No. 3 seemed to invoke all human experience."

Dinnerstein admits to playing Bach close to her own personality: "inward-looking, meditative and rhythmically free." She says the way people play music is a lot like they are themselves as people.

"I tend to be introspective," she says. "I tend to like music that is sensitive, slow and I like stuff that's kind of dreamy."

Dinnerstein's also drawn to musicians who pursue her own aesthetic, especially those rhythmically free ones who are not afraid to tug on the musical line — expanding or contracting it — as a means of expression. You'll hear this in the broad range of recordings she chooses in this guest DJ session, from conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson to singer-songwriter Tift Merritt.

Feel free to leave your thoughts about Dinnerstein and her favorite music in the comments section.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.