This weekend in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will play a concert of fifths - Elgar's Fifth March, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony and Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto - with the sensational Simone Dinnerstein. Originally, Beethoven's introspective Fourth Piano Concerto was slated for performance, but when it was switched for the epic Fifth, the concert became a raucous and sublime celebration of humanity rarely heard in a single program.
Despite its celebratory pattern, John DeMain, the MSO's music director and conductor, says the concert won't lack variety. "Within each piece is marvelous contrast," he says. "The concert also has a heroic theme that will continue into the next concert when we play Beethoven's 'Eroica.'"
Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto ("Emperor"), completed in 1810, has special meaning for Dinnerstein. "I learned the concerto in 1993 at the same time that I was preparing for my wedding," she says. "Two months after I was married, I wore my wedding gown when I performed it in Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. I chose a gown that would work for my wedding and also for the concert."
The Juilliard-trained pianist will play scales and trills aplenty, but the challenges lie elsewhere. "The concerto is a real ensemble piece that needs unity between the piano and orchestra," Dinnerstein says. "This is hard to achieve when you meet a conductor and orchestra for the first time."
The transcendent slow movement "doesn't seem like it was written by a person," she says. "It's as if it floated down from some other place. It looks back to Bach, but it also looks into the future. The concerto is a majestic and huge piece of music. Nothing like it had ever been written before."
Besides playing Beethoven on the big stage, Dinnerstein takes classical music to unlikely places. She gives benefit concerts to raise money for the New York public schools, where her husband teaches fifth grade. She raised the funds to record her rendition of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, which hit number one on the Billboard Classical Chart in 2007. A philanthropic spirit keeps her busy performing in nursing homes, community centers and prisons, where Beethoven is rarely encountered.
In contrast to the Beethoven concerto's otherworldly beauty, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony keeps us right here on Earth. Written in 1944, the symphony celebrates the nobility of humanity in a time of tragedy. The first movement begins with an uplifting theme in the flute but roars to a rowdy end. The second movement is an insistent, toe-tapping country dance, while the third is dreamy, nostalgic. In the finale, earlier themes reappear like old memories.
Elgar wrote "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 5 in 1930, late in life. But it exudes youthful energy as he shapes vast horizons with a steady, optimistic beat. Like the Beethoven and Prokofiev, the march applauds humanity and puts the whole world in a few notes.