“For me, making music felt inadequate.”
That’s what noted pianist Simone Dinnerstein said about the days she spent in lockdown last spring, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged New York City and spread across the U.S.
Conditions became unsafe for musicians to rehearse and perform together, and concert halls were closed.
So Dinnerstein, a globetrotting concert pianist, was forced to stay home. A certain quiet set in. And making her own noise – even on the beloved Steinway grand in her Brooklyn home – just didn’t seem to make sense.
“I just had no words for what was happening at that time,” Dinnerstein said in a phone interview, “and it felt just meaningless to be playing.”
Instead, she listened to a lot of music. She listened again and again to the recording of Bach’s cantata Ich habe genug (I Have Enough) she made with her string ensemble, Baroklyn, in their last performance before shelter-at-home orders went into effect. She listened to some Nina Simone. She listened to some other stuff her musically eclectic son had brought home with him from university.
But her Steinway – her Steinosaurus, as she calls it – lay quiet.
Dinnerstein called her friend and recording engineer Adam Abeshouse and told him about the funk she was in.
“He said, ‘You know, I think you needed to have a break. And you’ve always wanted to record on your piano, and I can come out to Brooklyn and record you in your room, on your piano,’” Dinnerstein said.
That’s how the energy behind Dinnerstein’s most recent recording, A Character of Quiet, was set in motion.
Dinnerstein recorded A Character of Quiet in June 2020 while sheltering at home, even as New York City reopened amid the pandemic. The recording juxtaposes etudes by Philip Glass with Schubert’s final Piano Sonata, D. 960, a work revered for its ineffable profundity.
Making the recording, Dinnerstein says, allowed her to explore commonalities in seemingly wildly different works and her own inner landscape at an extraordinary time.
“I felt that there was a very strong link between these two composers, that they share a language that is based on slow-moving changes, rhythmic patterns, harmonic patterns, small motives, that evolve over the course of time. And I thought this is the right thing to record right now,” Dinnerstein said. “The music is contemplative, introspective. It has a feeling of isolation in it. And it was just music that felt completely right.”
Listen to excerpts from A Character of Quiet, and hear Simone Dinnerstein talk about how making that recording helped her process her emotions about the pandemic.