Before traveling to Havana in 2015 to perform at a piano festival, Simone Dinnerstein was mostly unaware of the Cuban classical music scene. That all changed when she was introduced to the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Together with conductor José A. Méndez Padrón, they collaborated to record two of Mozart’s best-known concertos, for the HLO’s first major album and Dinnerstein’s tenth.
DG: You mentioned that you tried recording these concertos before, but it just didn’t work out. What didn’t work out?
SD: Oh, well, the funding fell through. [laughs] That’s actually what wasn’t right. But, you know, I think sometimes things happen for a reason. I didn’t know about the Havana Lyceum Orchestra then, and I feel like it was just right for this recording, for us to do this together. It was just perfect.
DG: Why did you choose these specific concertos for your album with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra?
SD: Actually, it’s quite practical: these are the two I’ve performed the most. [laughs] But, also, they’re two of my favorite concertos. I’ve always thought they go very nicely together. Though they’re both in major keys and written relatively near each other, they’re very different. I think it’s interesting to juxtapose them with each other. The A major (K. 488) has that very dark, slow movement, whereas the C major (K. 467) is just complete light — It’s just like the most joyful, uplifiting piece of music.
DG: How did you learn about the Havana Lyceum Orchestra?
I was invited to perform with them in a festival in Havana that was created by Solomon Mikowsky. He was my piano teacher when I was a child, from when I was nine until I graduated high school, and he is Cuban. And, so, in 2013 he decided to create a piano festival in Havana and he invited me to play there, and that’s how all this started for me.
DG: Since you were recording in the middle of the night, did anything strange ever happen?
One time there somebody who doing construction work next door and we had to go pay him off to stop. [laughs] And towards the end of sessions, like toward three in the morning we started getting bird song, so that was kind of strange having the bird song in there. Actually, I kind of wanted to leave it in the recording, but I didn’t think people would not have appreciated that.