By Eva Trieger
The words “violin virtuoso” conjure up images of somber, formal men or women in black tuxedos or floor length gowns, earnestly trying to produce euphonious strains on a beautiful, flawlessly crafted precise and temperamental instrument, carved of maple, spruce or ebony wood and adorned with catgut strings.This is what I believed until I watched a PBS special, which aired on October 14,2018. Itzhak Perlman completely blew the stereotype out of the water!
It is precisely this joie de vivre and animated quality that defines Perlman and makes him so accessible, simpatico and human.
The Israeli-born violinist and conductor began life in Tel Aviv, where he evidenced a unique musical aptitude as a very young child. At four years of age Perlman contracted polio, and lost the use of his legs.This seems not to have deterred his pursuit of musical excellence, as proven in his first public concert just six years later. He was just getting warmed up!
This past November 2 marked the 60th anniversary of Itzhak Perlman’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, a staple in nearly every American household in the 1950s and 60s. A chubby, 13 year-old Perlman servedMendelssohn’s Violin Concerto to a ravenous and awestruck crowd. This is but one example of Perlman’s divergence from so many other world-renowned violinists.
After drawing national attention, Itzhak went on to study at Julliard School where he benefited from the teaching of great violinists who groomed him for a performance at Carnegie Hall. This led the 20-year-old to garner the coveted Leventritt Competition, giving him global recognition.
Itzhak is equally famous for his forays into arenas beyond the strings section. He has conducted the Houston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony and the orchestras of every major US and Canadian city you can imagine! Internationally, Perlman has held the baton and waved his hands for the Berlin Philharmonic, Concert gebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, the English Chamber Orchestra and his own IsraelPhilharmonic. He exhibits great skill in coaxing a variety of moods and tones from whomever he is directing, both with his musical selections and unique interpretations.Perlman does not restrict his music to the concert hall. He donned a Mets’ jersey and played the national anthem on the pitcher’s mound during a Yankees-Mets game in 2016.
Perlman’s impact has been noted through numerous awards and music programs, created by him and his wife of more than fifty years, violinist, Toby Friedlander. Having won four Emmy awards, a Grammy LifetimeAchievement award, sixteen Grammy awards and many more honors, it was clearly time for a documentary on this rare and august man.
Alison Chernick’s film, “Itzhak”has been touted as a “love story on so many levels,” according to theLos Angeles Times. The film chronicles the life, loves and achievements of Perlman from his earliest days in Israel to the present. Included in the film are candid moments with Itzhak, his wife,Toby, friend, Alan Alda, as well as the family. The intimate moments reveal how Toby and Itzhak met at a music camp, and the smitten young woman proposed to the 17-year-old. The couple celebrates a Shabbat meal with their children and grandchildren, proud of their Jewish heritage. The film is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime, and may be purchased on Amazon.
Philanthropy and education register high on the Perlman’s mensch lekeit list. Mindful of his own physical struggles, Itzhak uses appropriate public moments to champion the cause of the disabled, and has donated generously to a number of foundations and research concerns. Upon being awarded the 2016 Genesis Prize of $1 million, Perlman, the “Jewish Nobel,”funneled the gift directly toward projects earmarked to create programs that”foster the inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life ,Israeli society and classical music.” The Perlman Music Program was created at the JuilliardSchool, and Itzhak has been a full time teacher there each summer since its inception.Toby Friedlander Perlman created this program with the idea that “all gifted young musicians are nurtured with kindness and respect.” The virtuoso recently treated 75,000 San Francisco Bay Area children to a free concert, performed with many of his students. The bill of fare included Gershwin, Liszt and Bach.
Perlman credits his love of violin to one of his earliest role models and mentors, Jewish violinist, Jascha Heifetz, to whom he listened on the radio. He also combines his pragmatism with his romanticism.In the trailer to “Itzhak,” Perlman quips he became a great musician because”you have a talent: use it. You’re not going to be a tennis player.” His passion and zeal come through in his playing and as one man said, “this is not music. It is praying with the violin.”
California Center for the Arts in Escondido will have the honor and great fortune to welcome Itzhak Perlman on January 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (800) 988-4253 or online at https://my.artcenter.org.