Review: Dinnerstein, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra shine in diverse program

Simone Dinnerstein is performing a piano concerto written for her by Philip Glass.

Music and Beyond is short on woman solo instrumentalists in its coveted 7:30 p.m.  slots this year, and even shorter on women composers. While Chamberfest, which starts July 25, will be marking the 400th Barbara Strozzi anniversary and the Clara Schumann 200th, neither composer is being commemorated at MAB. 

One more diverse offering was Monday night’s concert at Dominion Chalmers featuring pianist Simone Dinnerstein with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anne Manson. Of the three works on the program, two were by living composers, and one was by an Asian-Canadian woman, Edmonton native Vivian Fung.

Fung’s Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra opened the evening. The MCO commissioned the work in 2018, and premiered it in March of this year with Concertmaster Karl Stobbe and Principal Second Violin Rachel Kristenson as the soloists. It packs a powerful, virtuosic punch in its single, 15-minute-long movement: rustling with Fung’s trademark nervous energy, slippery glissandi oozing up and down the strings as the soloists trade jabs of Baroque-ish harmonies and fragments of a plaintive, vaguely Eastern European-sounding melody. A chaconne section tries to impose some formal structure before the entire piece floats away and dissolves —poof! — at the end of an ascending scale. 

Philip Glass wrote his Piano Concerto No. 3 for Dinnerstein in 2017, after hearing her perform his Études at an NAC event celebrating Glass receiving the Glenn Gould Prize. Dinnerstein gave the work’s Canadian premiere in January 2018 with Manson and the MCO, and is touring Canada with the concerto this summer. 

It’s a disarmingly open-hearted, almost sentimental work, the swell and ebb of repeated arpeggios creating hypnotic, circle-maze patterns. Dinnerstein plays with palpable affection and a lyricism that is both dreamy and grounded in her powerful, earthy sound. Deceptively simple, the concerto is full of tricks and traps caused by Glass’ repetitive rhythms. Despite Manson’s alert, precise leadership, the orchestra was caught out in a few places, coming in either too early or late on the beat. 

An arrangement for string orchestra of Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 (“American”) took up the concert’s second half. Here the MCO got to shine on its own, showing off a lush, warm, generous sound that was suited to Dvorak’s rich, folksy vernacular. There was especially fine solo playing by principal cellist Desiree Abbey. 

This program repeats Tuesday evening.

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.