Israeli Pianist to Accompany Grammy Award-Winning Soprano at Kimmel Center Concert

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Inon Barnatan | Photo provided

Inon Barnatan and Renée Fleming had a fiery start to their musical friendship.

A while back, they were at a concert in Aspen, where Barnatan was to play a concerto in the first half and Fleming was to sing in the second, recalled Barnatan, who was born in Tel Aviv and lived there for 17 years before ultimately making his way to New York City, where he’s been for more than 10 years.

Maybe a minute or two before the concert started, a fire alarm sounded.

There was no fire, but everyone had to leave until it was resolved.

“We all were waiting outside, and I was sitting with Renée and then we hatched this plan to do a couple recitals together,” said Barnatan, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. “And even though I don’t play that much with singers, I could not turn down a chance to work with Renée.”

Barnatan and Fleming, who won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo, will perform a concert together at 8 p.m. on Oct. 15 at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. The performance will include selections by Brahms and Fauré, as well as the world premiere of a new André Previn song cycle, which includes songs based on poems by Irish poet Yeats.

Barnatan, who has garnered many accolades of his own, such as the Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award in 2015, has played the piano since he was about 3 years old.

His mother had a piano at home that she would play every so often, and one day Barnatan began to correct her on her pitch from the other room.

“They kind of found out that I had perfect pitch because I would tell her what notes she was playing or what notes she was playing wrong, obnoxiously,” he remembered with a laugh. “They sent me to my first piano lesson, I think I was 3 and a half or so, which consisted mostly of the teacher giving me chocolate if I remember correctly, but that’s probably just the only thing I remember from those lessons.”

He’s been playing ever since.

“It never entered my mind that I wouldn’t do this,” he said. “I never lost the love for playing and the joy of playing. I didn’t have that feeling that the piano was something you do when you’re not having fun, which some kids have when they’re starting out.”

He recently completed a three-year term as artist-in-association for the New York Philharmonic, which he said was “incredible” and allowed him to forge deep, musical relationships.

“It was the kind of meaningful relationship that I love having with musicians. A musical relationship is very close to a human relationship,” he explained. “The more you play with one another, the more you are able to enjoy the deeper and more meaningful aspects of music making.”

He’s made a name for himself as an interpretive artist rather than a creative artist, like a composer.

If you ask him what music he likes to perform the most, he’ll tell you it’s a tough question to answer.

“Most people have some composer or music they’re identified with. I love so many different types of music as a listener, and I don’t really feel that that’s so different for me as a performer,” he said. “I’ve always loved the idea of variety and things feeding into each other, so the way that I play Schubert feeds into the way that I think about 21st century music.”

He and Fleming will perform another recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City following their Philadelphia performance.

He will also perform two concerts with cellist and 2011 MacArthur Fellow Alisa Weilerstein, both at the Kimmel Center on Oct. 16 and the next day at Carnegie Hall. This program, too, will include a world premiere.

The two have built up a musical relationship enough that Barnatan laughed they can finish each other’s sentences, “so to speak.”

He is excited “that in the same week I get to play with these two women and amazing musicians in the same venue.”

While he and Fleming have continued rehearsing in his apartment, which Barnatan’s dog has been enjoying, he said — though he isn’t sure if his dog is a Yeats enthusiast or a Previn fan, or just a fan of Fleming, he noted — Barnatan is looking forward to one simple element of the performance: “Playing with Renée.”

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