Thank you, Itzhak Perlman. It was a fabulous concert by the superstar violinist last Saturday night at Gala 2017 held at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts. And besides the music, of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, there was pleasure in just being in Perlman’s company. He produces extraordinary music in a most relaxed, unaffected and joyful fashion. His face, known for its elasticity, changes expression as he plays the notes, encouraging the listener not just to hear but also to feel the elegant sounds.
Perlman was 3 years old and living in the newly created state of Israel when he heard classical music on the radio. He asked for a violin but was turned away from the Shulamit Conservatory, which his father had brought him to, because he was pronounced too small to hold a violin. Instead he was given a toy fiddle and taught himself to play until he was finally accepted.
When he was 4, he contracted polio and in time was able to walk with crutches, but he plays seated on an electric scooter that he uses to get around the stage. He gave his first recital at 10 and not too long afterward came to the United States and to Juilliard. By 1958, when he was just 13, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and then went on tour with “The Ed Sullivan Caravan of Stars” across the country. In 1963 he debuted at Carnegie Hall and a year later won the prestigious Leventritt Competition before embarking on an extensive performing and recording career.
Perlman is known as a violinist, conductor, teacher and speaker, the last sometimes on behalf on those with disabilities. He usually performs as a soloist, accompanied by the gifted pianist, Rohan De Silva from Sri Lanka. But Perlman has shared the stage with many of the world’s greatest musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Isaac Stern and his friend and fellow violinist, Pinchas Zukerman. He has collaborated often with screen composer John Williams and plays the score for “Schindler’s List” in the movie, as well as that of “Memoirs of a Geisha” and other films. He even did a stint with the Muppets on “Sesame Street.”
Perlman has played with or conducted some of the great orchestras performing classical music. He also loves klezmer, a Jewish folk music, and jazz. What is not so well known is that he can sing. He actually sang the role of the jailer in the opera “Tosca,” alongside Placido Domingo and conducted by James Levine. At another time, he sang the same part, joining Luciano Pavarotti with Zubin Mehta conducting. That’s keeping pretty good company.
Known for his charisma and humanity, Perlman and his wife Toby — also a violinist, who he met in high school — started the Perlman Music Program that is housed in Shelter Island. There gifted young string players attend summer camp and mentoring programs. The Perlmans have five children and live in New York City.
Over the years, Itzhak Perlman has won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for a civilian, and the National Medal of Arts with numerous Grammy and Emmy awards. He has performed several times at the White House and all over the world, perhaps most notably in the Eastern European bloc countries with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987 before the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union in 1990, also China and India in 1994. He won over those audiences with his elegant yet seemingly effortless technique, his affability and humor, as he so totally did with us in Stony Brook this past weekend.
Thank you Staller director, Alan Inkles, and the rest of your staff of hardworking magicians, for a memorable night.