Inon Barnatan named new SummerFest music director by La Jolla Music Society

Inon Barnatan
The San Diego Union-Tribune

By George Varga

Acclaimed pianist Inon Barnatan has been chosen by the La Jolla Music Society to succeed Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin as the music director of SummerFest, the nonprofit arts organization’s annual August chamber-music festival.

The Israeli-born, New York-based Barnatan will be only the fourth SummerFest music director in the event’s 32-year history.

Barnatan, 38, will take over in 2019 from Lin, 58, who will conclude his 18th year heading SummerFest on Aug. 31. Barnatan’s first season in his new position will coincide with next spring’s opening of the society’s new, $78 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla.

“Inon has always been thought of extremely highly by Jimmy, as well as our audience,” said Leah Rosenthal, the society’s Director of Artistic Planning & Education.

“Not only is Inon an amazing soloist and chamber player, he’s an amazing collaborator, on and off the stage, and a wonderful administrator. And that’s key to being SummerFest’s music director — to work well with the staff and have a shared vision.”

Barnatan made his SummerFest debut as a performer in 2012. He lived in his native Israel until he was 16, then moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. He relocated to New York a decade later and has earned rave reviews around the world for his dazzling instrumental command and deeply felt performances of both traditional classical repertoire and contemporary pieces.

In 2014, Barnatan was named the New York Philharmonic’s first-ever Artist-in-Association, a post he held for three years. Following his appointment in 2014, the philharmonic’s music director, Alan Gilbert, hailed Barnatan as “the complete artist: a wonderful pianist, a probing intellect, passionately committed, and a capable contemporary-music pianist as well.”

Barnatan’s initial contract to head SummerFest is for 20 months, with an option to extend to 32 months. His salary was not disclosed.

In a Wednesday interview at the society’s La Jolla offices, the slender musician sounded both elated and honored to succeed Lin at the helm of SummerFest.

“I will have nothing to do with the 2018 season, which is a celebration of Jimmy’s 18 years here, and I’m sure he will be daunting to follow,” Barnatan said.

“He’s been so incredible at his job, and is such a wonderful guy and musician, that it’s intimidating and also humbling to follow him. But Jimmy left such a great groundwork — and with the people that are working here and the audiences that love coming to SummerFest, I feel it will be much easier for me to step in.”

That said, Barnatan readily acknowledges that taking the helm of the festival is not a role he had previously contemplated.

“Being music director here was not really on my radar, because I’m so busy,” he noted. “But, as soon as the idea came up, I realized how many of my interests come together in this position and how much excitement I got out of thinking of the different possibilities, both musical and nonmusical.

“Chamber music has always been in some ways central to me. Whether I was playing with orchestras, playing solo or with smaller ensembles, it’s always been the basis of my ideas about music — collaboration that involves listening, interaction and curiosity. And, for me, this basically brings all of these things together.”

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