I went to Berry College just outside the small southern town of Rome, Georgia. One night the college bussed a group of us to a free concert in town. I can’t remember how it came about or who paid, and I didn’t even know who was performing, but it was free and something to do with my friends. Arriving, I saw the name Bill Evans Trio on the billboard, but it meant nothing to me then, except jazz was likely in order. It was one of the best concerts I have ever attended; I could not believe the way Mr. Evans made that piano or me come alive; it was only later that I learned of his fame. That was the beginning of my belief in magic. My answer to the question “Do you believe in magic?” is yes; every time I see the hands of an accomplished pianist running across the piano keyboard, I believe in magic. Renown concert pianist Simone Dinnerstein both alone and in ensemble with the Telegraph Quartet reaffirmed that belief on Sunday afternoon. Last year, I wrote a blog post about two transcendent experiences I had vacationing in Spain; it only rarely happens that I find experiences I use ‘transcendent’ to describe. I added two more to my list Sunday afternoon attending this Candlelight Concert Society program in Linehan Hall on the campus of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
left: Performing Arts and Humanities Building of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. right: Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall. Photos by Ronald Fedorczak; courtesy of the Candlelight Concert Society.
The Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building is worth noting itself. Completed in 2014, the concert hall seats only 375 attendees; all seats are relatively close to the stage. It is a warm, inviting, wood-paneled structure that leaves no doubt about its intended use. It comes with its own nine foot Steinway grand concert piano. I was told that Linehan was modeled on Strathmore Hall in Bethesda. It has received praise for its acoustics in national publications and musicians love it.
Formed in 2013, the award-winning Telegraph Quartet is young, but rapidly growing in esteem. They are based in San Francisco and recently accepted the position of Quartet-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory. They began the program with the modernist “Rondo” by Anton Webern (1883-1945), a staple of their young repertoire, and was meant to be part of a quartet which the composer was unable to finish prior to his death. They followed with three selections from Antonin Dvorak’s “Cypresses”, which are songs written by the composer, then transcribed for string quartet by Dvorak. They were only published after his death and named “Cypresses” by the publisher; the composer originally intended to name them “Echos of Songs”. These are very pretty pieces played beautifully by the Telegraph Quartet. Overall, I enjoyed the Telegraph Quartet who should only get better as they mature together in the years to come.
The Quartet left the stage and Simone Dinnerstein entered in a simple back evening dress and seated herself alone at the piano without sheet music and a page turner. Her face immediately displayed an expression of intense involvement with the music, not perceptibly changing during the playing of Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Impromptus, OP. 90. Schubert is my favorite classical Romantic composer. In my simple way of thinking about it – Mozart is too sweet; Beethoven is too intellectual, and Schubert is just right. However, I had not heard his Impromptus prior to this performance and expected them to be brief exercises where a composer experiments with a musical idea. These pieces for the piano proved to be much more than that; I was entranced. Ms. Dinnerstein plays so beautifully with both technical brilliance and emotion that I encountered my first transcendent experience of the day. I have listened to her recording of the Impromptus several times since, worthy listening but not as good as hearing them live. They are on a Sony CD titled, “Something Almost Being Said: Music of Bach and Schubert”. I love that title, but I think there was something being said in her playing, though not in words and only communicated to the heart.
After intermission, Ms. Dinnerstein and the Telegraph Quartet entered the stage to play together the Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) “Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34”, also a first hearing for me for this piece, which is Brahms’ only piano quintet. The quartet was seated directly in front of the piano. This time she used sheet music and a page turner. Starting with the first movement, music and the passion with which it was played immersed me in the experience, but it was the third movement, very spirited, that moved me into the transcendent area, continuing through the fourth movement. During playing of the Quintet, Ms. Dinnerstein kept a watchful eye on the Quartet for signals, a sign of the freshness of this collaboration, and the Quartet played with enthusiasm and a beautiful sound. My son and I were seated center in the fourth row and I wondered, if that close, the sound volume of the quartet was slightly more than the piano and whether the sound would have been different further back in the auditorium; the Quartet also somewhat blocked the view of Ms. Dinnerstein. I found myself wanting to tinker with the arrangement. When the Quintet was finished, audience clamoring brought the performers back for two more standing ovations after the initial one. The collaboration of Ms. Dinnerstein and the Telegraph Quartet on this marvelous piece of music by Brahams would make a fine CD for anyone’s collection. I wonder if it will be recorded at some point.
Transcendent musical experiences aren’t always in the Carnegie Halls or Lincoln Centers of the world. Sometimes they are in a small town in Georgia or on a college campus in Maryland, but they always require being there where the music is being performed, live and in person. One may be awaiting you at the next Candlelight Concert.
The Story of the Concert: Simone Dinnerstein who is a famous concert pianist and the Telegraph Quartet who are just beginning their careers don’t normally work together; so, I was curious how this concert came to be. I had the opportunity to chat with the Candlelight Concert Society’s Artistic Director Irina Kaplan Lande about this point and found the answer illuminating. Ms. Kaplan has been Artistic Director with CCS for only three years, but has taught piano at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore for over twenty years. She also performs with her own group, the Poulenc Trio. In other words, she has tremendous experience in the chamber music world and is very well connected into the chamber music community on the business and performing sides. These connections prove invaluable in lining up the best musical groups for concerts. CCS management was interested in holding a concert in Linehan Hall to grow its base, but also wanted to make sure it offered a concert that would attract the Howard County base to make the trip over, knowing their fondness for chamber music. Something special was needed. She also noted that there are an impressive number of talented students studying piano in Howard County who would be interested in a recital by an established star pianist. You know, there ought to be a phrase to use instead of the ‘perfect storm’ for situations when everything comes together to make something good happen. Well, It was a perfect storm-type combination of connections – Ms. Lande with concert organizers and performer representatives and with Ms. Dinnerstein; Ms. Dinnerstein’s connection with the Telegraph Quartet and with the Baltimore area; CCS commitment to producing world-class concerts and expanding its audience base, and sponsors providing financial backing – all coming together to make this concert happen. I’d like to note that this concert was sponsored by Lori and Tim Roth. It so happened that Ms. Lande learned through her connections that Ms. Dinnerstein, whom she knows and greatly admires was planning a concert in Dallas (performed the week after the CCS concert), that would include playing the Brahms Quintet with the Telegraph Quartet; Ms. Dinnerstein is known for doing collaborative work. This seemed a good match for CCS goals for this concert in the series; so backed by CCS management, including Executive Director Jessica Julin White, she set about making it happen - to our great benefit. Ms. White is also highly experienced, a soprano who has sung in many of the world’s major opera houses and who runs her own vocal studio in Howard County. When the management team is this accomplished, you attend the concerts they plan with confidence that you will always be attending a very high quality event.
The Fan Experience: The drive from Tysons Corner to Linehan Hall on a Sunday afternoon took about an hour and finding the Hall was made easy by consulting a UMBC campus map ahead of time; loads of free parking close by. The performers were available after the performance with CDs for sale and were signing programs, a nice touch. Simone Dinnerstein will be back in this area on April 21 performing in Fairfax, VA, and on May 12 performing at Baltimore, MD.
The next Candlelight Concert feature’s So Percussion, an American percussion quartet based in New York City. They will give two concerts, one on Saturday, January 21, as part of the regular CCS concert series, and one on Sunday, January 22, a CandleKids 45-minute concert, targeted to kids four years and up. These concerts will be back in the Smith Theater on the Howard County Community College campus. Tickets can be purchased using this link.