Q&A: Inon Barnatan on his BBC Proms debut

On 14 August 2017, Inon Barnatan will make both his BBC Symphony and BBC Proms debuts, performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major at the Royal Albert Hall. We caught up with him to find out more about how he was feeling, his repertoire and what he thinks makes the Proms so special.

How are you feeling about making your BBC Proms debut?

Playing the Proms has been a dream of mine ever since I first attended a Proms concert, while I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I remember standing in line for the “prommers” ticket and having this overwhelming feeling of joy, witnessing all the people that were as passionate and excited about music as I was. The sense of electricity I felt at every concert I attended at the Proms stuck with me for the rest of my life. It’s hard to overstate what it means to me to be a part of this collective experience, this time as a performer.

Can you tell us a bit about the repertoire you’re performing, and what it means to you?

I have loved Ravel’s music all my life, and the Ravel Piano Concerto in G has been central to my repertoire for a long time; I have played it in some of the most important moments of my life, such as my debut with the New York Philharmonic, and the first time I played at the Berlin Philharmonie. This concerto distills together so many interesting elements that were fascinating to Ravel – from his Basque heritage to his encounters with Jazz, from his love of Mozart to the strange sounds of the theremin – he poured a lot into this piece, without forgetting to have fun in the process. When an artist can say something important without losing the sense of enjoyment and fun, that is very powerful experience.

And about the musicians you’re performing with?

“I have rarely encountered an audience
as dedicated, well informed, enthusiastic and
ardent as the Proms audience.”

This the first time I will get to perform with both BBC Symphony and Maestro Kazushi Ono. While there is a lot to be said for lasting relationships, there is also a special kind of electricity on a “first date”… However, it is certainly not a blind date, since I have enjoyed the work of both this orchestra and Maestro Ono many times as a listener, and therefore I know I will have a wonderful time working with them.

Finally, what is it about the Proms that makes it special?

The first thing that is usually said about the Proms is that it has an incredible atmosphere. It’s hard to argue, but harder to pinpoint because there are so many elements that come together to make it so.

Of course, some of the best performers in the world are there, and have been coming for many years, and the Royal Albert Hall is inspiring and very special; but for me, first and foremost, it’s the audience that creates that atmosphere. I have rarely encountered an audience as dedicated, well informed, enthusiastic and ardent as the Proms audience. When the Proms is on it seems to envelop and involve the entire city and becomes the centre of cultural life in a way the few festivals do.

A famed actor once described acting as surfing: as a performer, he said, you ride the wave that is created when great material meets an attentive audience. At the Proms, that wave is a tsunami.

We wish Inon a fantastic debut on 14 August. More information can be found here.

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