“Sentiment without sentimentality, very beautiful and touching.” That’s how concert pianist Inon Barnatan described Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s output in a telephone interview Wednesday, Nov. 19. The Israeli, who resides in New York, will appear with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra next Friday evening, Nov. 28, in Princeton, playing Chopin’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 1’ under the baton of Stefan Sanderling. The program repeats in Newark’s Prudential Hall Saturday, Nov. 29, and in New Brunswick Sunday, Nov. 30.
Very easygoing about such things, his name is pronounced EE•nahn Bar•nah•TAHN, though most people in this country can only manage to say BAR•nah•tahn. “I gave up that fight years ago,” he said, laughing heartily. He spoke passionately about Chopin, his upcoming concerts with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and about a first for the New York Philharmonic.
Is Chopin a favorite composer for the pianist? “Definitely. I have many favorites, but very few pianists would not count Chopin among their favorites.” Concerning Chopin’s Concerto No. 1, “It’s a privilege to play it with great orchestras, like New Jersey. Not a lot of orchestras play Chopin, or want to. They think it is very easy, and then they play it and they find out that it’s not that easy.” Wherein lies the difficulty? “Chopin’s orchestration is so exposed, so transparent.” It’s very easy to tell when something goes slightly wrong.
How can first-time concert-goers get the most from the upcoming performance? “Great music just sort of grabs you. Chopin’s first piano concerto is so gorgeous and Romantic. It is elegant and passionate at the same time.” Newcomers won’t have any trouble being fully enraptured with this music.
Inon Barnatan is understandably happy over his recent appointment to a brand new position with the New York Philharmonic, “Artist in Association.” The post brings with it the opportunity to be featured in “concertos, chamber music and collaborations” during the Orchestra’s current season and the subsequent two. “My debut in March won’t be fraught with so much worry about whether they will ever invite me to come back, because I’ll be there the following two seasons.” His debut there will be with Ravel’s G-major piano concerto.
How does the pianist feel about performing in New Jersey? “It’s really one of the nicest things about living in New York. Getting to play with both ensembles—the New York Philharmonic and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra—each with an audience that is among the greatest in the country, is a thrill. Plus it’s also a nice change to be able to travel to the concert by car service and not by plane.”
The pianist’s hectic travel itinerary takes him cross country and across the Atlantic multiple times during the next six months. “I was in Chicago on Monday, just for one day,” he said. “I take off tonight for Berlin. (I love Berlin.)” There he will meet up with cellist Alisa Weilerstein, a frequent collaborator in chamber music, for a duo recital. The two will also record sonatas for cello and piano by Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninov, “both very piano-centric works,” before his Stateside appearances.
The New York Times has aptly characterized Inon Barnatan as “suddenly ubiquitous.” The only problem with sudden ubiquity is the catch-me-if-you-can challenge. The worldwide performer with a seemingly untiring wanderlust will not return to the tri-State area until February. Better catch him next week while he’s in New Jersey.