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The Eye is the First Circle

Conceived, Directed, and Performed by Simone Dinnerstein

Multimedia, USA

“Dinnerstein is an artist of strikingly original ideas and irrefutable integrity. These attributes, combined with elegance and grace, lend her music-making its captivating beauty.”The Washington Post

With The Eye is the First Circle, Simone Dinnerstein ventures into bold interdisciplinary artistic territory in collaboration with projection designer Laurie Olinder and lighting designer Davison Scandrett. Conceived, directed, and performed by Dinnerstein, this dynamic production deconstructs and collages elements from two iconic works of art-her father Simon Dinnerstein’s The Fulbright Triptych and Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata no.2 (Concord). The Fulbright Triptych places a family portrait (including an infant Simone) within the tradition of medieval altar paintings, against a wall teeming with art historical references, and the Concord Sonata expresses the imaginative and natural world of the Transcendentalists through an ecstatic and fractured musical lens. Olinder pulls visuals including animated elements of the painting and real-time video to all points of the stage, and Scandrett’s lighting gives them breathtaking theatricality. Dinnerstein’s searching performance sits within this disorientingly immersive visual space. The piece asks: How do our origin stories mold us? How can a sense of self come from the musical and visual fragments we remember from childhood? The Eye is the First Circle shows us what it is to draw a new circle around the one we stand in, at the edge of what we can see.

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As Emerson wrote in his essay “Circles”, “The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.”

The Eye is the First Circle is a very personal piece that, at its core, explores how my family’s world shaped my relationship to art. I devised it using my father Simon Dinnerstein’s Fulbright Triptych and Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata. My intellectual, emotional, and artistic response to each work, and to the connections I saw between them, is what formed the larger circle I drew.

I envisioned The Eye is the First Circle as a single artwork with many kinds of expression. To craft it, I collaborated closely with the projection designer Laurie Olinder, along with lighting designer Davison Scandrett and associate video designer/engineer Simon Harding. Laurie’s rich imagination, consummate eye for composition, and artistic skill brought the visual ideas to life. The pieces of the puzzle that I wanted to interweave—such as using hidden cameras inside the piano, interspersing natural and human sounds of the world around us, and filming myself in the actual garden that was the subject of the copper plate at the center of the triptych—were discussed with the entire artistic team. A member of the Kasser Theater’s stage crew sat at the piano as a stand-in for me so that the four of us could be out in the theater, viewing the stage and constructing the work.

While creating this production, I discovered that I had an aptitude for visual composition and for directing. It was as if I discovered a sixth sense that I had never used before, and I felt the joy of generating an artistic experience that expanded beyond music, the area where I am most used to expressing myself. When I began, I did not know what the end point would be. As Emerson wrote, “The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle.”



Ep. 19. The Talking Cure: Simone Dinnerstein

Jedediah Wheeler asks Simone Dinnerstein to reflect on the genesis and development process for the PEAK Performances commissioned work The Eye is the First Circle. He and Dinnerstein converse on her expanded view of her career now as a renowned concert pianist and recording artist to her successful pursuits into a wide range of collaborative projects.

This podcast is produced by PEAK Performances and the Office of Arts + Cultural Programming at Montclair State University.

NPR National Public Radio
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein illuminates a lifetime in art with a new multimedia concert.
Most of us have snapshots of ourselves as infants. But pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a different kind of baby picture. Her father, Simon, included her, sitting on her mother’s lap, in The Fulbright Triptych, an enormous 14-foot-wide painting. That 1974 masterwork is at the center of a new multimedia performance piece devised and directed by the pianist: The Eye Is the First Circle premieres at Montclair State University in New Jersey on Thursday.


Simone Dinnerstein

The Eye is the First Circle

Photography by Maria Baranova
For hi-res photos please contact: peakmktg@montclair.edu

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NJ Arts
NJArts.net: Simone Dinnerstein debuts ambitious multimedia work at Montclair State
“I just want to thank my parents,” said pianist Simone Dinnerstein after debuting her multimedia piece, “The Eye Is the First Circle,” at the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University, Oct. 14.

Musical America Worldwide
Simone Dinnerstein Takes on New Artistic Challenges this Fall
This fall, pianist Simone Dinnerstein takes on new artistic challenges in three projects, expanding her role from performer to director in her first production, The Eye Is the First Circle, developed in residence at PEAK Performances at Montclair State University, and premiered at MSU’s Alexander Kasser Theater, October 14-17, 2021.

BBC Music Magazine
BBC Music Magazine: Simone Dinnerstein “Music That Changed Me.”
New York-born Simone Dinnerstein hit the top of the Billboard charts in 2007 with her self-financed recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Her busy career has included premiering Philip Glass’s Third Piano Concerto, and her latest recording, A Character of Quiet, recorded at home in Brooklyn during lockdown, couples three of Glass’s Etudes with Schubert’s Sonata in B flat.


pdf program peak performances


Support for the office of Arts + Cultural Programming provided by the following: The Alexander Kasser Theater Endowment Fund, PEAK Performances Patrons, New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

new jersey arts council