Celebrated for his “fine music-making wedded to astounding technique” (The Washington Post), Inon Barnatan makes his long-awaited Baltimore Recital Debut. In his thoughtfully curated program, he explores works of musical transformation across two centuries, followed by Schubert’s transcendent final sonata.

“A player of uncommon sensitivity”—The New Yorker

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    Inon Barnatan

                    Celebrated for his poetic sensibility, musical intelligence, and consummate artistry, Inon Barnatan has been described by the New York Times as “one of the most admired pianists of  his generation.”

                    In July 2019, Inon Barnatan began his tenure as artistic director of California’s La Jolla Music Society Summerfest. The 2019–20 season continues with the release, on Pentatone, of a two-volume set of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos with Alan Gilbert and London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Concerto appearances include the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Chicago, Royal Stockholm, and New Jersey symphonies, and, with the Cincinnati Symphony, a recreation of the legendary 1808 concert at which Beethoven premiered his Fourth Piano Concerto, Choral Fantasy, and Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Barnatan gives his solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, returns to Alice Tully Hall with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and reunites with his frequent recital partner, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, for tours on both sides of the Atlantic.

                    Barnatan’s 2018–19 highlights included concertos with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh, Oregon, and Houston symphonies, the Australian Chamber Orchestra at Lincoln Center, and a Beethoven concerto cycle with New Jersey’s Princeton Symphony. Solo recital engagements took him to Boston, Seattle, and London. In addition to performances with the Dover and St. Lawrence quartets at Carnegie Hall, he toured nationally with the Calidore Quartet, and with Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Sergey Khachatryan, and percussionist Colin Currie.

                    A regular performer with the world’s foremost orchestras, Barnatan served from 2014 to 2017 as the New York Philharmonic’s first artist-in-association. In 2017, he made his BBC Proms debut and gave the season-opening concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Recent debuts include the Chicago, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Nashville, San Diego, and Seattle symphonies, as well as the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the London, Helsinki, Hong Kong, and Royal Stockholm philharmonics. Other recent highlights include a Beethoven cycle in Marseilles; performances with the San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall; and a U.S. tour with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, where Barnatan played and conducted from the keyboard. He also joined the Minnesota Orchestra for a New Year’s Eve concert, a Midwest tour, and a return to the BBC Proms in 2018.

                    Barnatan is the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award. He was a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program, and continues to make CMS appearances in New York and on tour. He has commissioned and premiered many works by living composers, including Thomas Adès, Sebastian Currier, Avner Dorman, Alan Fletcher, Joseph Hallman, Alasdair Nicolson, Andrew Norman, Matthias Pintscher, and others. Last season, he gave collaborative recitals at Carnegie Hall and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center with soprano Renée Fleming, and in both 2016 and 2018 he collaborated with the Mark Morris Dance Group at New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Barnatan’s most recent album is a live recording of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoilesat the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. In 2015 he released Rachmaninov & Chopin: Cello Sonatason Decca Classics with Alisa Weilerstein. His solo recordings, including a 2006 debut on Bridge Records, and, on Avie, Darknesse Visible(2012) and Schubert’s late sonatas (2013), have received wide acclaim.

                    Born in Tel Aviv, Barnatan started playing the piano at the age of three and made his orchestral debut at eleven. He first studied with Victor Derevianko, a student of the Russian master Heinrich Neuhaus, before moving to London in 1997 to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Christopher Elton and Maria Curcio, a student of the legendary Artur Schnabel. Leon Fleisher has also been an influential teacher and mentor. Barnatan currently resides in New York City. Inon Barntan’s website is inonbarnatan.com

    "[Barnatan is] a player of uncommon sensitivity." —The New Yorker

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Selected 'Songs without Words'

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Mendelssohn’s name was a byword for precocity in his day as in ours. “This is a family the like of which I have never known,” proclaimed the composer-virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles, who taught piano to Felix and his sister Fanny, also a distinguished composer. “Felix, a boy of 15, is a phenomenon. What are all prodigies as compared with him? Gifted children, but nothing else. This Felix Mendelssohn is already a mature artist, and yet but 15 years old!  Felix had to show me a concerto in C minor, a double concerto, and several motets; and all so full of genius, and at the same time so correct and thorough!” 

In 1825, not long after this panegyric, Mendelssohn produced his first masterpiece, the String Octet in E-flat major, immediately acclaimed as a worthy successor to Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet. The 16-year-old wunderkind, a student at the University of Berlin, spent his days attending Friedrich Hegel’s lectures in philosophy and polishing his thesis, a translation of a Latin comedy by the Roman playwright Terence.

Four years later, Mendelssohn’s celebrated performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion laid the groundwork for the 19th-century Bach revival. Renowned as a composer, pianist, and conductor, Mendelssohn was one of Europe’s foremost musicians by the time he became director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in 1835. A decade later, he “retired” to Frankfurt to spend time with his family and concentrate on composing. The last two years of his life saw the composition of such major works as the Violin Concerto, the String Quintet in B-flat major, the oratorio Elijah, and the F-minor String Quartet, regarded by many as his greatest work.

Mendelssohn’s lyrical genius found its purest and most direct expression in his more than four dozen Lieder ohne Worte for piano. Friends urged him to tag these enchanting “songs without words” with descriptive titles, but he demurred. “What the music I love expresses to me is not thought too indefinite to be put into words, but, on the contrary, too definite,” he famously wrote. “If you ask me what my idea is, I say—just the song as it stands.” The eight sets of Lieder ohne Worte that Mendelssohn published between 1829 and 1845—which inspired Moscheles, Grieg, and others to write their own pieces in a lyrical vein—are among his most beloved creations.

As a composer of songs with words, Mendelssohn is often felt to have been eclipsed by Schubert and Schumann. With a few exceptions, his text settings tend to be folklike in their simplicity, his piano accompaniments lacking Schumann’s rich vein of fantasy and Schubert’s genius for tone painting. Yet such comparisons do Mendelssohn an injustice, for it was precisely the directness of his art songs, his avoidance of mannerism and complexity for its own sake, that contemporary observers singled out for praise. The English critic Henry Chorley extolled his piano playing for similar reasons: it had “none of the delicate and plaintive and spiritual seductions of Chopin,” but no one who heard Mendelssohn’s playing “could fail to be excited and fascinated by it,” revealing as it did “a mind clear and deep; an appreciation of character and form referring to the inner spirit rather than the outward details.”

Notes by Harry Haskell, © 2019

Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)

'Peter Grimes' Fantasy on Themes from Benjamin Britten

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Prelude No. 2

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Steeped from childhood in New York’s rich Jewish diaspora culture, Gershwin bridged the worlds of popular and classical music more successfully than any other composer of his day. Thanks in part to his early training as a song plugger (one who promoted new sheet music) on Tin Pan Alley, he acquired a dazzling and versatile piano technique, which he displayed both on the concert stage and in the more intimate, impromptu settings of private house parties. Vernon Duke, another stylistically flexible composer, wrote: “To anyone who has not heard Gershwin play, his piano magic is hard to describe. His extraordinary left hand performed miracles in counter-rhythms, shrewd canonic devices, and unexpected harmonic shifts. The facility for abrupt yet felicitous modulations, the economy and logic of the voice-leading, the over-all sureness of touch were masterly in their inevitability.”

Alongside his many popular songs and musicals, Gershwin made significant contributions to the classical repertoire with works like Rhapsody in Blue, the opera Porgy and Bess, the Concerto in F, and the Three Preludes for solo piano of 1927. According to one report, Gershwin originally envisioned a set of twenty-four preludes modeled on those of Bach, Chopin, and Debussy. Prelude No. 2, in C-sharp minor, is a short, tenderly sentimental ballad in ABA song form that wouldn’t sound out of place in Porgy. Gershwin described it as “a sort of blue lullaby.” The accompaniment’s steady rocking motion offsets the suppler rubato rhythm of the melody, which oscillates languidly between G-sharp and B before climbing to the tonic C-sharp. After a contrasting midsection in F-sharp, in which the left hand introduces a new theme, the original tune returns, this time embellished with bluesy grace notes.

Notes by Harry Haskell, © 2019

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

I Got Rhythm (arr. Earl Wild)

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Gershwin’s irresistibly jittery “I Got Rhythm,” with lyrics by his brother Ira, is virtually an anthem of the Jazz Age, having been a standard among jazz musicians ever since it was written for the musical Girl Crazy in 1930. Two years later, George Gershwin published an elaborate arrangement for solo piano, one of 18 hits featured in his best-selling anthology George Gershwin’s Song-Book. “Playing my songs as frequently as I do at private parties,” he explained in the introduction, “I have naturally been led to compose numerous variations upon them, and to indulge the desire for complication and variety that every composer feels when he manipulates the same material over and over again. It was this habit of mine that led to the original suggestion to publish a group of songs not only in the simplified arrangements that the public knew, but also in the variations that I had devised.”

So many other composers and pianists jumped on the bandwagon with their own variations on Gershwin’s pop classic that it became something of a cottage industry. Among them was Earl Wild, the American pianist who played a major role in reviving the virtuosic transcriptions, operatic paraphrases, and fantasies of Franz Liszt and his fellow Romantic keyboard wizards. Published in 1975, Wild’s Seven Virtuoso Etudes on Themes of Gershwin included this freewheeling take on “I Got Rhythm.” With bravura passagework, multilayered textures, and off-kilter harmonies, Wild’s finger-twisting etude overlays Gershwin’s song with an exhilarating display of Lisztian pyrotechnics. At the same time, it remains faithful to what one contemporary described as Gershwin’s “sledge hammer” rhythms and harmonies that “were years ahead of the time.”    

Notes by Harry Haskell, © 2019

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960

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Unlike the great composer-pianists of the 19th century—such as Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Liszt—Schubert was by all reports a less-than-stellar keyboard player. There seems no reason to question the judgment of the contemporary composer (and virtuoso pianist) Ferdinand Hiller that he “had but little technique.” On the other hand, Schubert’s brother Ferdinand, a composer and organist, testified that “although Schubert never represented himself as a virtuoso, any connoisseur who had the chance of hearing him in private circles will nevertheless attest that he knew how to treat the instrument with mastery and in a quite peculiar manner, so that a great specialist in music, to whom he once played his last sonatas, exclaimed: ‘Schubert, I almost admire your playing even more than your compositions!’”

Schubert’s brother’s account is corroborated by another ear-witness to Schubert’s piano playing, who admired the warmly lyrical, human-scaled sound he coaxed from the light-framed, bell-toned Viennese fortepianos of his day. (Such playing contrasted sharply with the powerful, quasi-orchestral sound produced by string-snapping virtuosos like Beethoven and Liszt, who favored the more powerful English and French pianos.) After performing his Sonata in A minor, D. 845, at a private musical soirée in Vienna, the composer told his father that more than one listener had said that “the keys became singing voices under my hands, which, if true, pleases me greatly, since I cannot endure the accursed chopping which even distinguished pianoforte players indulge in and which delights neither the ear nor the mind.” 

The same qualities that made Schubert a great song composer—his seemingly bottomless reservoir of melody, his ability to invest the simplest of musical phrases with dramatic significance, his quicksilver changes of key and mood—are equally apparent in his solo piano music. If Schubert’s impromptus, moments musicaux, ländler, and other short piano pieces distill the essence of his lyrical genius in its purest and most concentrated form, his mature piano sonatas combine the intimacy of the salon with an almost symphonic breadth. Astonishingly, Schubert lived to see only three of his piano sonatas in print. The vast majority of his works were published posthumously, and it was not until the 20th century that complete scores of all 21 piano sonatas became available.

The last of them, the Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, was completed in late September 1828, less than two months before Schubert’s death. Earlier that fall, belatedly heeding his doctor’s advice, the ailing composer had moved out of his apartment in Vienna and taken up residence with his brother Ferdinand in supposedly more salubrious suburbs. There, despite his rapidly deteriorating health, he composed both his great string quintet in C major and the radiant Shepherd on the Rock for soprano, clarinet, and piano, and put the finishing touches on three piano sonatas that he had been working on since the spring. These valedictory masterpieces (D. 958–960) are remarkable for the grandeur of their conception, the richness and complexity of their tonal relationships, and their intricate interweaving of lyricism and drama.

Notes by Harry Haskell, © 2019

Program Subject to Change Without Notice