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Pianist is going to shul to launch concert series

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Tel Aviv-born Inon Barnatan has won acclaim as one of the world's most sought-after young pianists. In his mid-30s, he has conquered America, being recently announced as the New York Philharmonic's first Associate Artist. But his appearance at the Central Synagogue in London's Great Portland Street next Wednesday will be his first shul performance.

It opens Central's International Concerts Series - in partnership with the JC - which features stars of the classical world and music with a Jewish influence. Barnatan will play Schubert's magnificent final two sonatas and Israeli Avner Dorman's restless Nocturne Insomniaque, composed especially for him.

No prizes for spotting the Jewish connection with Dorman, but with Schubert it's more complex. The great composer actually set Psalm 92 for the Vienna Synagogue and, it is thought, studied Hebrew for the occasion with its famous cantor, Salomon Sulzer. And his Ninth Symphony was premiered with Mendelssohn conducting.

"The mesh of the brain and the heart, the feeling and the scholarship is what I find most interesting about Judaism," Barnatan says. "In Schubert, too, you never have one without the other, the expressivity and the structure. So in that way you might define something about it as Jewish, and that's why he probably felt called to set a Jewish song.

"Take the A major sonata, which I'll play in London. It's an architectural marvel, the way that themes appear and return and interlock. It's like this huge monument, but then it also contains probably the most strikingly unstructured moment in the whole classical romantic period - in the middle of the second movement, where everything just collapses. All pretence of reason. It all folds into a sort of human desperation. And the juxtaposition of that and the structure around it make a huge impact and defines the entire piece."

Great art contains a lot of human existence

Isn't that also a description of the Jewish year? A heavily structured calendar, carefully ordered services, and then on Kol Nidre everything just stops. "One of the hallmarks of great art is that it contains a lot of human existence," Barnatan reflects. "In one way it is universal and in another very personal. So it's very possible to find those kinds of echoes."

Especially in an iconic synagogue like the Central? "Probably. When I play this music in a synagogue for the first time, what the place is used for, and its history, will influence how I understand it."

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