The Set List

S1 E18 | FULL EPISODE

Simone Dinnerstein at National Sawdust

Join us for an unforgettable performance of solo piano music from the world-renowned Simone Dinnerstein at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. The pianist has crafted a suite of music that effortlessly moves between the Impromptus of Franz Schubert and Philip Glass’s Etudes. She makes cross-generational musical connections and emphasizes the surprising commonalities between these composers’ work.

AIRED: January 19, 2020 | 0:56:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

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My name is Simone Dinnerstein, and I'm a pianist.

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I'm gonna play a really interesting program

where I juxtapose the music of Philip Glass and Franz Schubert,

and I've created a type of suite

that goes back and forth between the two composers

without any pause.

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I had an instinct that there was a real connection

between the music of Schubert and Glass.

And I wound up listening

to pretty much all of Philip Glass's piano music.

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And discovering that my instinct was really correct,

that there's a very strong similarity between the music.

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In the case of Glass and Schubert,

she manages to really bring out the dramatic elements

of both of these composers.

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These are two composers that are really separated in time.

And their music is really different

and really could not be mistaken the one for the other.

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And yet there's an incredible amount of DNA in common.

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Glass and Schubert have a lot in common.

You might think, separated by more than 200 years,

that they would exist in very different musical worlds.

But they share a birthday, both born on January 31st.

And they both have a kind of melodic sense,

a kind of a cantabile,

a songful nature to the music that they write.

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Dinnerstein: Philip Glass is an extraordinary composer

because he really created a new genre of music

which we call minimalism,

but it's actually not a term that he himself uses.

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Etudes are exercises, really, but music, as well as exercises.

So in other words, they're not just finger exercises,

but finger exercises are being used

to create an artistic statement.

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Schaefer: I think with both the Philip Glass études

and the Schubert impromptus,

you get the sense of the composer sitting at the piano,

maybe not with a preconceived notion of what he's going to do,

but kind of feeling his way

and going on a little bit of a journey

and discovering something along the way.

With Philip Glass, I think each étude has a technical challenge

that he wanted to work out,

but very often the inspiration was just in the moment.

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The thing that's really similar

between Glass's and Schubert's music

is the sense of figuration.

Schubert will have these little things

that are in the background --

♪ Doh-doh-dee doh-doh-dee doh-doh-dee ♪ --

like a little undulating triplet thing.

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And what Glass's music often will do

will just take that background

that's background normally to a melody

and use it as the sort of foreground.

But it's the same exact thing.

He's actually using the exact same tools.

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Both Schubert and Glass, to me,

seem to be operating on the principle that less is more.

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There's this feeling of cutting away,

of trying to strip it down to its most bare essentials.

That's extremely beautiful, and it's deceptively simple,

and it's actually quite hard to play

because there's nowhere to hide.

You know, the music is all exposed.

It's like seeing the bones and the veins of a person,

and when you're playing it, all of that is there.

Another thing that they have in common is the use of repetition.

It strikes us as funny now, but back in Schubert's day,

orchestral musicians would complain

about all the repetition.

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Which is not too dissimilar from Philip Glass's experience

the first time orchestras started playing his music.

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Zimmerli: Philip Glass's music isn't really repetitive

as much as it's transformative on a large scale.

And you have to really listen

and really understand the details of his music

to understand that.

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You have to actually quite dig into it

a little bit more deeply.

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Schaefer: There's very little literal repetition

where the same thing just happens over and over again.

There's a lot of cells that divide,

and, you know, it's almost like a biological

or an evolutionary process.

So there's a real kind of variation on thematic material

but always in the service of some kind of emotional content.

They have a line to them.

They have a flow to them, at least in the right hands.

And in the case of Simone Dinnerstein,

you have someone who has a keen sense

that architecture is only part of the job,

that you also need to find the emotional content

that that architecture is supporting.

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Dinnerstein: Philip Glass has heard me play this program.

I thought he would find it really interesting,

'cause I wasn't sure if he was conscious

of the connection between his music and Schubert's or not.

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He said that his father owned a record store,

and his father apparently really loved the music of Schubert.

Maybe Schubert was his favorite composer.

Glass said that he grew up listening to loads of Schubert.

And he hadn't realized how much it had crept into his music

until he heard me play this program.

[ Laughs ]

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[ Applause ]

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