Pianist Barnatan on music, audiences

When pianist Inon Barnatan arrived in Charleston this year to play in the Chamber Music Series, he brought with him a fresh batch of sparkling accolades for his newly released CD, “Darknesse Visible.” Barnatan’s album features pieces inspired by literary works — a refreshing and clever program theme. Barnatan’s sensitivity to buried musical connections is part of what makes him so valuable to the chamber musicians performing twice daily at the Dock Street Theatre during Spoleto.

The Post and Courier asked Barnatan what it’s like to play in the series.

Q: The audience reception was off the charts after your first performance. When you all came out for a third bow, people started clapping in a rhythm. Is that typical for this festival?

A: I know! That’s something that’s very interesting — that’s usually something you encounter in Europe. It’s funny how people in different countries have evolved into different applause conventions. Since that’s not an American tradition — rhythmic clapping — it was very special. It felt like they were really excited about the concert. It was fantastic to hear. Audiences here are always so attentive and appreciative. It’s a real pleasure to play for them.

Q: How did you get hooked up with the festival?

A: I owe that to Alisa Weilerstein, who I’ve played with for many years, and who has been coming to Spoleto for many years. She told Geoff (Nuttall, series director) to check me out. He didn’t know me at the time, so he listened, and, luckily said I could come.

Q: Are programs put together entirely by Geoff or do you and the other musicians contribute?

A: At some point months before, Geoff writes to us and asks if there’s anything we’d particularly like to play. For example, the Chausson (Program I) was my suggestion, partly because I’m also playing it at three or four other festivals. Summer festivals are always a puzzle in terms of trying not to play too many pieces — I think I’m playing about 40 this summer — but ultimately, it’s Geoff who forms the program. His programs are always so interesting. He loves to challenge both the musicians and the audience with interesting combinations and introduce people to pieces and composers they wouldn’t necessarily hear. He’s one of the best, I think, in that respect. There’s always something that even the musicians, who know a lot of music, think, “Oh! That’s really fascinating!” He goes by gut.

Q: Is there a favorite piece coming up in the program?

A: I absolutely adore the Ravel trio that’s coming up (Program VI), and the Brahms clarinet trio (Program V). There are also a few new pieces for me — I’ve never played the Poulenc before, so I’m looking forward to that. There’s nothing I don’t like, they’re all my children.

Q: Is it difficult to play the same program three times in approximately 24 hours while keeping it fresh?

A: No, it’s always so interesting to see how a piece changes so quickly — the differences in the performances when there has only been an hour or two between them. You learn something each time. When you finish a performance, there are usually a few things you wish you had done differently, and here, you get that chance almost immediately. I love it, actually.

Leah Harrison is a Newhouse School graduate student.