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From zero to hero as strange beauty wins through

'There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." The words of Francis Bacon, not the Dublin-born artist, but the Renaissance philosopher whose idea struck a chord with the American pianist Simone Dinnerstein when she was preparing an album of music by Bach, released a year ago by Sony Classical.

Her latest, and fifth, takes its title from another quotation, this time from the poet Philip Larkin: "The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said".

Bach: A Strange Beauty was an acknowledgment that there is much that is unexpected, irregular in the work of the Baroque genius.

Something Almost Being Said: Music of Bach and Schubert affirms Dinnerstein's view that there is a vocal element to these sounds, "wordless voices, singing textless melodies".

Dinnerstein's story is one of artistic talent allied to a steely determination cloaked in an engaging personality. Piano-mad since her childhood in Brooklyn, her painter father -- with no musical background -- asked for advice, and was told the recorder was a good place to start.

Her talent was obvious when piano lessons eventually began, but she was by no means on the career path of a prodigy.

In fact, when she left the famous Julliard School, hers was a reputation still waiting to be made.

She entered competitions, played as a freelance wherever she could, and gave private lessons.

The glamour of the concert circuit was still the stuff of dreams. When she was expecting her son, she decided on some Bach to help her through the pregnancy, and by the time Adrian was born, the Goldberg Variations had become her signature piece -- too good to keep to herself.

She wanted to record this music but she was, as she put it herself, in "a position of zero power" with no contacts, no management, no publicity machine.

She tapped up her friends and the folk who'd begun to follow her, and eventually raised the $15,000 it took to bring out a CD.

She hired the recital room at Carnegie Hall for a performance, and the favourable reviews she got helped her find a label.

Her Goldberg Variations came out on Telarc in 2007 and shot straight to No 1 on the Billboard Classical Chart. Two more releases followed before an inevitable step-up to the big league and Sony Classical signed her in 2010.

A Strange Beauty came out the following year and was another instant No 1, helping her to become bestselling instrumentalist of 2011 on the Billboard Chart.

No strangeness now. In a little over six years Dinnerstein has soared from the ranks of the unrecorded to one of classical music's hottest tickets today.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning.

ghamilton@independent.ie

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