Miller Theatre's Pop-Up Concerts Return with 'Live from Columbia'

BY Angeline Dimambro, December 21, 2020

Miller Theatre has partnered with Columbia University’s School of the Arts to bring back their celebrated series of Pop-Up Concerts, now in a new, virtual format. Live from Columbia is a series that “brings Columbia to [audiences] through unique digital concert experiences, showing the breadth of Miller's programming, from Bach to jazz to living composers, while highlighting the iconic beauty of the campus of Columbia University.”


The Pop-Up Concert series at Miller Theatre was originally founded by Melissa Smey, Associate Dean at the School of the Arts and Executive Director of Miller Theatre and the Arts Initiative. “My goal when I founded the pop-up concerts,” Smey said, “was to give audiences an opportunity to hear world-class musicians in an informal setting, and to make classical music feel comfortable and welcoming to all.” 


Most recently, Simone Dinnerstein, acclaimed pianist and frequent Miller Theatre collaborator, performed a solo recital highlighting her thoughtful interpretation and signature expressive elegance. In addition to accomplishments as a musician, Dinnerstein is a producer, educator, and collaborator. Her “majestic originality of vision” (The Independent) has made her one of today's most sought-after pianists. This performance marked a return to Columbia for Dinnerstein, who performed the NY Premiere of Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at Miller Theatre in September of 2017.

While the performance was recorded at The Lantern—the beautiful top-floor venue at The Lenfest Center for the Arts—over 300 people tuned in this week to watch the live premiere of the concert together. “We all know that artists are creative, adaptive, and resourceful,” Smey said, “so even though we can’t be together on campus, we are finding ways to create and share music with our global community.” Dinnerstein’s performance drew on her most recent album, A Character of Quiet, and featured works by Phillip Glass and Franz Schubert. 


Dinnerstein recorded A Character of Quiet in June of this year, right in her own home in Brooklyn, New York. The pandemic meant the cancellation of many concerts for Dinnerstein, who has since spent her time at home with her husband and son. “I felt very lucky to be able to stay in one place with my family but, candidly, lockdown did not make me feel creative or productive. It made me anxious and enervated. Indeed, for two months I think I barely touched the piano. Music did not seem like an adequate response to everything that was happening in the world. Instead, I read Wordsworth and Melville and went for walks in Green-wood, the historic cemetery on my doorstep.” Eventually, Dinnerstein’s close friend and collaborator Adam Abeshouse coaxed her back towards music and the possibility of recording at home, on her own piano, began to take shape. 


“Once I’d warmed up to the idea of playing again there was the question of what to record. The three Glass etudes and the Schubert B-flat Sonata immediately came to mind. Glass and Schubert are very different composers but they share some unexpected similarities. I love their pared down quality, their economy, their ability to change everything by changing just one note in a chord. Their asceticism suited the moment. But there is a sensual element in both, too, because the human voice is central to Glass and Schubert’s sound worlds. They both create a feeling of a solitary journey, a sense of time being trapped through repeated vision and revision as the music tries to work itself to a conclusion. This all spoke to the way I was feeling.”


The premiere party also featured real time in-program notes by Lara Pellegrinelli, Part-time Lecturer of Music at The New School. As Pellegrinelli noted, Dinnerstein says that a chance to perform at The Lantern, with its striking background of Morningside Heights, held personal significance for her. “I attended the Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division for most of my childhood, so this view has special poignancy for me.”


Watch Dinnerstein’s complete performance here. Miller Theatre’s next Live from Columbia event will be a performance by Brandee Younger & Dezron Douglas. Catch the live premiere on January 19, 2021 at 7 pm.