It's safe to say that the Goldberg Variations changed Simone Dinnerstein's life. 

Here's the story: She took on the task of learning the Variations as a project chosen to accompany the nine months of her pregnancy. She emerged from the experience with a son, Adrian, and a deep connection to the piece of music that she had long admired in Glenn Gould's hands and had now made her own. She self-produced a recording of the work which was remarkable enough to make managers return her calls and to fill her calendar with concert dates. She performed the Goldbergs in her self-presented Weill Hall debut recital, to a full house and the blessing of the  New York Times. In 2007, Telarc released her recording of the Goldbergs, and the world took notice. 

It's a story, with its mix of DIY determination and fairytale good fortune, that has captured imaginations in musical circles and beyond. But it's Simone's musicianship - deeply personal, sometimes unorthodox, always committed - that resonates with listeners, in concert and on disc.

Simone's concert and recording projects have taken her in many new directions. during these last few years. Her latest  CD Something Almost Being Said: Music of Bach and Schubert, was released on Sony Classical in January. But I asked her to go back with me to the Goldberg Variations and all the beginnings they represent in her life, musical and otherwise:


Introducing the ON THE BENCH Questionnaire

A new feature at ON THE BENCH, my guests will be subjected to the following Dorky Piano Version of the Proust Questionnaire. Stop by later this week when Simone Dinnerstein gives her responses in LOOKING AT THE GOLDBERGS, PART II. 

But in the interests of full disclosure, I'll go first.

The ON THE BENCH Questionnaire (with apologies to Proust and Vanity Fair)
Lara Downes interviews Lara Downes (with apologies to Glenn Gould)
What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to practice?  
      Turn off my phone

What's the last thing you do before you go onstage?  
       Call my kids to say goodnight, then turn off my phone 

If your piano could speak, what secrets would it tell about you? 
        Sometimes she practices in her nightgown.

If you could travel in time to attend one concert, which would it be? 
        Horowitz's return to Moscow after 60 years, in 1986. I remember watching that concert on TV, the overwhelming emotion in the hall, the audience in tears, Traumerei... To experience that moment in person would be well worth the trip.

 If you didn’t play the piano, what would you do?  
        I'd run a concert series or festival - something that would let me develop projects, build audiences, work to shape a musical present and future. Or I'd just bake cookies.


Still More Ways of Looking at the Goldbergs

As part of my series Looking at the Goldbergs, I'll be posting some Goldberg Variations treasures and trivia. Here's a pretty wild mix: six different versions of Variation 5 - played by Arrau;  Barenboim,  Gould,  Kempff,  Schiff, and Tureck.



For the past year and more, I've been immersed in the world of Bach's Goldberg Variations,  with the making of my new album 13 WAYS of Looking at the Goldberg: Bach Reimagined. I've been examining the history of this monumental piece of music, its place in the world and in my own life as a pianist. LOOKING AT THE GOLDBERGS is a series of conversations with other pianists who have likewise lived intimately with the Goldbergs, looking at this piece in many different ways.

Dan Tepfer is a brilliant NYC-based jazz pianist, whose wonderful new CD Goldberg Variations/Variations intersperses each of Bach's 30 variations with original jazz improvisations.

Mr. Tepfer not only enters what to many pianists is hallowed ground — he leaves his self-assured footprints all over. His jazz roots show through in the crisp articulation and rhythmic clarity of his counterpoint, in his glass-sharp attack and, above all, in his supple approach to time... He builds a bridge across centuries and genres to spark a dialogue with Johann Sebastian Bach.
—Corinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim, Wall Street Journal
Dan and I recently spoke about reinventing the Goldbergs, the power of transformation, and truth in music.