“I have a strong responsibility to prepare my students for the real world once they leave. I want them to think about all of the different choices they could make as musicians.” -Simone Dinnerstein
Descending from a line of socially engaged New York City artists, Mannes School of Music faculty member Simone Dinnerstein is equal parts classicist and 21st-century artist.
A pianist who has taken the No. 1 position on Billboard's chart, Dinnerstein is famous for breathing new life into canonical works like Bach's Goldberg Variations and performing modern pieces composed for her by creative pioneers like Philip Glass. But Dinnerstein's capacity for reinvigorating classical music is most apparent in her teaching at Mannes and her entrepreneurial efforts throughout NYC introducing new generations to the classical genre. “A lot of musicians are isolated as soloists,” says Dinnerstein. “It's important they interact with the outside world.”
Born, raised, and classically trained in New York City and London, Dinnerstein cut her teeth in communities forged by civically engaged performers who preserve art through teaching. She remains an influential hometown fixture, teaching piano and other instruments in both conservatories and schools in the NYC area and performing in city symphony orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and events like Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival. This integral role in the classical ecosystem has earned Dinnerstein accolades - the New York Times called her “a unique voice in the forest of Bach interpretation.”
Dinnerstein's musical versatility, entrepreneurial spirit, and devotion to community have brought her professional success and form a foundation that Dinnerstein is working to develop in her Mannes School of Music students. “I feel like I have a strong responsibility to prepare my students for the real world once they leave,” she says. “I want my students to think about all of the different choices they could make as musicians - outside of being just an international soloist.”
Dinnerstein's desire to help her students branch out helped spark the Mannes course Producing a Neighborhood Classics Concert. In the course, she walks them through the intricate and rewarding process of producing and performing a series of classical concerts at elementary schools in Brooklyn. The idea is to guide students to become key figures within their musical circles, just as Dinnerstein has become in her own career and neighborhood.
“I live in Park Slope,” she says, “which is surprisingly ripe for a concert series, mainly because 40 or 50 years ago all of these families would have had subscriptions to the New York Philharmonic, and now, for whatever reason, they don't.”
Aiming to expose young people to music in classical and other styles, Dinnerstein got to work planning a concert series. She started by introducing elementary school students at P.S. 282 to listening exercises and a varied list of instruments and composers, activities followed by a final interactive performance. It was crucial to Dinnerstein that she and her Mannes students have an intimate connection to the communities they were serving. “It made sense for me to have a concert series in a school that I had a real-life connection to,” she says. “My husband teaches at P.S. 282, and my son went there. So I could bring in some interesting and unusual music, and they'd respond because they trusted me. These students needed the same.”
The resulting concerts have proved to be immersive and educational for the community while giving Dinnerstein's students at Mannes a professional edge. They are now producers, managers, community builders, one-person classical music sanctuaries, and multifaceted performing artists skilled at playing for small children.
“One benefit of the course is learning how to speak to a mixed community about music without talking down to or above your audience,” says Dinnerstein. “This includes seniors, but especially kids. 'Perform honestly,' I often tell them. 'Kids can always sense a sham.'”