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Pianist Inon Barnatan joins NCCO for ‘Silver Season Opener’

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New York-based pianist Inon Barnatan appears with the New Century Chamber Orchestra in the Bay Area. (Courtesy Marco Borggreve)

The New Century Chamber Orchestra is kicking off its 25th season with Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan, making his debut with the group as it begins its final season with music director-violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

The musician, the first Artist in Association at The New York Philharmonic, is playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 K. 415 in C major at season-opening concerts, which come to stages in Berkeley, San Francisco and San Rafael this week. (The program also includes Webern’s “Langsamer Satz,” Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 and Peter Heidrich’s “Happy Birthday Variations.”)

For the multi-award-winning Barnatan, who performs a wide spectrum of the piano repertoire internationally, few composers reveal the true abilities of an artist as does Mozart. Nothing makes him happier than playing the concertos.

“It’s hard to deny that some of the most enduring, profound music came from the same area, but there was also a lot of ordinary music written in Germany at that time, too. It is difficult to pinpoint why the language of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven was so fundamentally different. Mozart, with the simplest means — at least on the surface — manages to express so much, and the emotional and intellectual implications are so large that the achievement is staggering,” he says.

Barnatan, who lives in New York, has a sweet spot for the Bay Area. In April, he appeared with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall before joining the orchestra on its East Coast tour later in the month.

When visiting The City, he can often be found in restaurants in Japantown and Hayes Valley.
“There is so much good food here. You can definitely find me in Asian restaurants while I’m here. But I also often end up near Davies Symphony Hall, so I’m looking forward to checking out MTT’s Beethoven, too!,” he says.

With Barnatan’s NCCO appearance marking one of Salerno-Sonnenberg’s last duties as music director (a job she’s held since 2008), and coinciding with Marin Alsop’s departure, after leading the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music after 25 years, the pianist ventures this response to the question of why so few women hold top spots in classical music. (The New York Times reported that women are more likely to be found leading industrialized democracies or serving as four-star officers in the military, than working as the music directors of major orchestras; Alsop, who has led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2007, is the only woman heading a big-budget, major American orchestra.)

Barnatan, whose mother, a dancer, nurtured his creativity, says, “I think our industry is not alone in this, unfortunately. But I’m very happy that more and more, women are given a voice, an opportunity. I see many more women conductors and composers, more than I ever did. And I really hope we can judge people on their merits and not give them less or more breaks because of anything else.”

IF YOU GO
New Century Chamber Orchestra
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Sept. 16, 8 p.m. Sept. 17
Tickets: $29 to $61
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com, www.ncco.org
Note: Performances also are at 10 a.m. Sept. 14 (rehearsal) in S.F., 8 p.m. Sept. 15 in Berkeley and 5 p.m. Sept. 18 in San Rafael.

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