Chamber Music Society brings Fauré program to Drew Campus

Inon Barnatan
Daily Record

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center may bear the name of New York City's biggest arts venue, but its influence extends well beyond the Big Apple.

Its musicians fan out across the country and beyond to give performances that explore traditional and non-traditional chamber music repertoire.

The Society lands closer to home Nov. 12 when it gives a concert of music by French composer Gabriel Fauré at Drew University's Dorothy Young Center for the Arts inMadison.

One of the performers, Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan, has found that the Society's influence can help mold a career.

"The Chamber Music Society is obviously well respected," he said by phone from his new apartment in New York City. "It opens many doors."

And it has helped give Barnatan a new direction in his music making.

"I'm primarily a soloist and it was a great opportunity to meet many people and play chamber music and to really get into the American chamber music scene in a way as a soloist, and especially coming from London, would have been more difficult for me," Barnatan said.

Barnatan joined the Society through Chamber Music Society Two, a program that is open to developing young artists. Those who are accepted join the Society for a three-season residency.

This is Barnatan's second season with the Society and the Society's second season of performances at Drew University. The Nov. 12 concert exemplifies the organization's way of exploring a composer with works that span his career.

On the program are Fauré's Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, the "Dolly Suite" for Piano Four Hands, and the Quartet No. 2 for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello.

"They're all fantastic pieces," said Barnatan, who will play in the first two works. "They're very different. Fauré is often a neglected composer. I think it's fantastic we get to perform him."

Barnatan said Fauré had a large influence on the French composers of his generation and the next. Although he's best known for his Requiem, his output focused more on chamber music than large orchestral works.

"He was a lot like Brahms," Barnatan said. "He was able to be innovative and traditional and forward-looking at the same time."

Barnatan described the earlier Violin Sonata as sensual and romantic, whereas the Piano Quartet, written 10 years later, is more complex.

"The Quartet is very impressionistic," he said. "But together with that there is a weight to it that is not particularly French."

This program, along with the Society's other concerts, are put together by its husband-and-wife artistic directors, pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel, who is a member of the esteemed Emerson String Quartet. Both Han and Finckel have played at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship concerts.

"The mission of the Society is to be the leader of chamber music," said Han, who was calling from Vancouver, British Columbia, where she was participating in a Society concert. She had performed in Calgary, Alberta, the night before, and was scheduled to perform in La Jolla, Calif., Saturday.

"There is no such thing in the world with this size," she said, referring to the Society's worldwide connections. Its performances can be heard on radio, they can be downloaded from iTunes, and they can be heard in person at venues across the country.

The Society's first season at Drew University was a smashing success. According to Han, the tickets were sold out two weeks after the season was announced.

"I'm a true believer in live concerts," Han said. "You always want to give a chance for everyone to really experience music in that way -- no distractions, no interruption, no cell phone beeping, no cooking going on, no exercise machine running. It's just a different way to experience music.

"When you hit the high mark on the concert presentation, it will live with you for a long, long time."

The Dorothy Young Center for the Arts fits in well with that philosophy.

"It's fantastic," Han said. "It's a perfect space for chamber music. It's clear, it's beautiful. The sound quality is fantastic. The sight lines are fabulous. It's just the right size. Even though it's 500 seats, you still feel you're intimate. You're close to the stage, you're intimate with the musicians. It's quite an experience."

The Chamber Music Society will return to Drew on March 3 for music of Heinrich, Gottschalk, Ives and Smith, and on May 12 for an all-Rachmaninoff program which will include Barnatan as a performer.