The timing couldn't be better.
The Fresno Philharmonic is featuring an internationally acclaimed, on-the-rise 30-something pianist to open its 60th season in the same week that the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series kicks off with an 80-something superstar still going strong.
Here's the connection: That superstar, Leon Fleisher, who plays this afternoon (Sunday, Sept. 22) with Keyboard Concerts at Fresno State's Concert Hall, has had a big impact on Inon Barnatan, the Israeli-American pianist who will bring Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 to life with the Phil this coming weekend at the Shaghoian Hall.
"He's been one of the major influences on me in the way I think about music," Barnatan says of Fleisher. The two met in 2004 when Fleisher invited Barnatan to study and perform Schubert sonatas as part of a Carnegie Hall workshop.
That experience, Barnatan says, has had a lasting resonance for the pianist, who has performed with the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco symphony orchestras.
"He taught me how to deal with a piece of music rather than how to play it, how to think about it, how to organize it," Barnatan says. "It's still in the back of my mind when I play."
For Fleisher's part, he's tickled his former student's career is going so well.
"He was always a great talent," Fleisher says.
The fact that the two men are appearing in the same week says something about Fresno's classical music scene. As a medium-sized city with a respected orchestra and piano concert series, it can attract guest artists on the cusp of stardom and those already there.
The centerpiece of the Fresno Philharmonic's anniversary season, for example, is the return of the great violinist Sarah Chang, who in January will play the Bruch Violin Concerto with the orchestra.
Keyboard Concerts, meanwhile, in October presents Vadym Kholodenko, gold medalist at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In the piano world, to land a player of that caliber — and so soon after winning the Van Cliburn — is a very big deal.
Other musical groups are planning memorable offerings. The Orpheus chamber ensemble in March will present the world premiere of Fresno composer Jack Fortner's chamber opera "NOTHING and more" in a fully staged production commissioned by the El Cimarrón Ensemble of Salzburg, Austria. Members of the ensemble will travel to Fresno to give the first performance.
The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra's international cello festival in October will feature several cello greats, including Lynn Harrell. In April, Vadim Gluzman will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the orchestra after a weeklong residency.
And the ambitious Youth Orchestras of Fresno in May will team up with the Fresno Philharmonic for "Side by Side," featuring conductors Theodore Kuchar and Thomas Loewenheim. Local chamber ensembles, choirs and bands, meanwhile, provide a bounty of area musical talent.
The only place locally you'll hear Tchaikovsky's second piano concerto, though, will be in Barnatan's performance this weekend with the Fresno Philharmonic. Also on the all-Tchaikovsky program is the composer's beloved 1812 Overture and his "Romeo and Juliet."
Barnatan has performed the second concerto, but it isn't requested very much — certainly not as much as Tchaikovsky's much-loved first concerto.
"It doesn't get played often, unfortunately," says Barnatan, speaking by phone from his home in a converted warehouse in New York City's Harlem. "I think it should be played more."
The piece is unusual in that it's almost a triple concerto, with starring roles for cello, violin and piano.
"Maybe that's why not many people play it — they don't want to share the stage," he says with a laugh.
Concertgoers will have a chance to feel close to that stage. Barnatan is performing three times at the Shaghoian Hall, a much more intimate venue than the Saroyan Theatre. Three of this season's Masterworks concerts — including November's "Latin+American" program featuring the return of pianist Orion Weiss — will be triple-headers performed at the Shaghoian. Two Masterworks concerts — including Sarah Chang — will perform two times each at the Saroyan.
The orchestra's pops series, including October's Paul McCartney tribute, will continue at the Saroyan.
For Barnatan, the Tchaikovsky piece is a break from Schubert, whose music has been on his mind recently. On his new album, released Sept. 10 on the Avie label, he plays sonatas written during the last year of the composer's life.
"It's remarkable that anyone could write these pieces in a space of a few months," he says. "It's fun for me as a musician to sort of zero in and get into the nooks and crannies of a very specific period, and really feel you can immerse yourself in that."
The conversation turns back to Fleisher, who obviously had a big impact on Barnatan. Another coincidence: Fleisher will be playing another Schubert piece, the Fantasy for piano for four hands (with his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher) as part of his Keyboard Concerts program.
And to think: Barnatan and Fleisher will only miss each other by a few days.
"He's a wonderful musician," Barnatan says of his mentor. "I'm honored to be in his company."
IF YOU GO
Inon Barnatan with the Fresno Philharmonic, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Shaghoian Hall, 2770 E. International Ave. fresnophil.org, (559) 261-0600. $28-$75.
Leon Fleisher, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, 3 p.m. today, Fresno State Concert Hall. keyboardconcerts.com, (559) 278-2337. $18, $12 seniors, $5 students.
Here are selected highlights of the coming classical music season. For an extended version, including links to season schedules, go to fresnobeehive.com.
Fresno Choral Artists: Opening concert "Hail! The New Day" (Oct. 26-27) celebrates newness, morning and rebirth. (559) 240-0087.
Fresno City College choirs: The FCC Vocal Jazz Ensemble opens the semester with the FCC Jazz Ensemble (Oct. 23) featuring music by Marsh, Eckert and Dana. fresnocitycollege.edu/boxofficetickets, (559) 442-8221.
Fresno City College Concert Band: Concert Oct. 16. fresnocitycollege.edu/boxofficetickets, (559) 442-8221.
Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale: "Magnificat" (Nov. 10) features music by C.P.E. Bach and Hovhaness. Chorus joins the Fresno Philharmonic for a Wagner extravaganza (March 9).
Fresno Community Concert Band: Opening concert (Oct. 20) features a "Band Sampler" of woodwinds, brass and percussion. "If It Isn't Baroque" (April 27) includes the music of Bach and Handel. fresnocommunityband.org.
Fresno Grand Opera: This season's big offering is "Les Miserables" (Jan. 17-19). fresnograndopera.org.
Fresno New Music: Mark Applebaum jazz recital (Oct. 10), Conundrum (Nov. 1). fresnonewmusic.org.
Fresno Pacific Concert Choir: Opening concert, "Let Heaven and Nature Sing" (Nov. 24), features a service of lessons and carols. "Eternal Rest" (March 30) includes the Mozart Requiem. fresno.edu/department/music/events, (559) 453-2267.
Fresno Philharmonic: Wu Man, the musician most responsible for introducing the pipa, a Chinese lute instrument, to the West performs a concerto by Tan Dun (April 4-6). fresnophil.org, (559) 261-0600.
Fresno State Concert Choir: Concert Nov. 24. fresnostate.edu/artshum/music/concerts.
Fresno State Symphony Orchestra: The premiere of Kenneth Froelich's Symphony No. 1 (Nov. 23) also features on the program Bruce Bransby playing Koussevitsky's Bass Concerto. fresnostate.edu/artshum/music/concerts.
Moment Musical: Concerts include "A Taste of Romance" (Jan. 5) and "All Together Now!" (March 23). (559) 432-2473.
Musica Viva: "String Quartets" (Feb. 20-23) features music by Philip Glass, Samuel Barber and Felix Mendelssohn. (559) 392-1425.
Pacific Concert Series at Fresno Pacific University: Tromba Musica brass quintet (Oct. 13) creates a dynamic sound. Winds of the San Joaquin woodwind ensemble (Feb. 20) plays classical to pop. fresno.edu/department/music/events, (559) 453-2267.
Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts: Shai Wosner (Nov. 22) is a protege of Emanuel Ax. Tamila Salimdjanova (May 9) was 2012 gold medalist at the Bndes International Piano Competition in Rio de Janiero. keyboardconcerts.com, (559) 278-2337.
San Joaquin Chorale: Opening concert will be performed Dec. 7 in Reedley and Dec. 8 in Fresno. sanjoaquinchorale.com.
Soli Deo Gloria: Opening concert is "Sing It Sister: Six Centuries of Girl Groups" (Nov. 22). sdgchoir.com, (559) 473-6486.
Youth Orchestras of Fresno: Opening concert, "Winter Stars" (Nov. 17) includes music by Mozart, Schubert and Vivaldi. The culmination of the "JOY Project" (May 25) features Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. youthorchestrasfresno.org, (559) 275-6694.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, firstname.lastname@example.org and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.