The world is full of aspiring performers. You only have to look at Britain’s Got Talent for proof. So convinced are some of their own abilities that they put their own money on the line to record albums. Most disappear without trace. Not so Simone Dinnerstein.
Two years ago, the Brooklyn-based pianist self-produced an album of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The record became an instant bestseller, topped the critics’ charts and earned a prestigious French music award. At the relatively late age of 33, her career as a concert musician had been launched.
“People were very discouraging when they heard about the idea,” she said at the time. “But I thought, somebody’s going to hear the record, and they’re going to hear what is different about it, and it’s all going to work out.”
What audiences heard was Dinnerstein’s distinctive technique, which she puts down to her teacher, Maria Curcio, a student of her pianist hero Artur Schnabel.
“One of the most wonderful things about studying with Maria was that her aesthetic came from a different era of piano playing, from the 1940s and ’50s,” she says. “It’s quite different from how the piano is played today. It’s a more lyrical, translucent, individualistic way of playing.
“That was how she taught and those are my values. I like to get away from the piano sounding like a machine — which it basically is — and have it sound like a human voice. I don’t want it to sound like hammers hitting strings.”
Growing up, Dinnerstein had to rely on the generosity of sponsors to help fund her expensive music education as, she says, her own parents – the artist Simon Dinnerstein and Renee, a teacher — did not have the means.
The career of a musician is “very precarious”, admits Dinnerstein, who says that she is not keen to push her own seven-year-old son, Adrian, into the business.
And she is grateful that she is based in New York rather than London, where she lived when she studied with Curcio, and whose music community she sees as both more exclusive and less well-funded. “Although there are many orchestras in London, it’s a pretty tight-knit group. There is more of a mix of people coming to New York. I also think there’s more money available for musicians here. My friends in the UK have to work much harder to make the same amount.”
She is returning to London this month to perform at the Wigmore Hall, playing works by Bach, Beethoveen, Schumann and American composer Philip Lasser. The programme is similar to that of her November 2007 debut at the Berlin Philharmonie, the live recording of which was released last year, also to critical acclaim.
“I’m going to be playing some of my favourite pieces of music,” she says. “I actually like spending time on the same repertoire because I feel that the music deepens every time you play it.”