Perlman in touch with art and audience


Although Itzhak Perlman routinely sells out the most prestigious concert halls in the world, he always still finds time for worthy causes.

In that spirit, he's giving a violin recital on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville as a benefit for the Beth Tfiloh Community School Scholarship Fund.

Accompanied by pianist Samuel Sanders, Mr. Perlman says he'll play a program that includes sonatas by Brahms and Saint-Saens, as well as "some transcriptions by Jascha Heifetz in a sort of homage to Heifetz. There are a lot of arrangements and transcriptions he's done, so I don't know at this moment exactly which ones I'll do."

Indeed, after driving an audience wild during the scheduled program, Mr. Perlman has been known to humorously shuffle through the sheet music as if still trying to decide which sizzling short pieces to play by way of encore -- enjoying the moment as much as the audience members shouting their requests.

His rapport with the audience often extends to speaking directly to them. With a personality as effusive as Mr. Perlman's, it'd be hard not to.

"I also do some talking. I like to do that. The audience enjoys that contact and communication. My spoken remarks are spontaneous -- whatever comes to mind," he says during a recent telephone chat. He's even been known to announce fresh sports scores from the stage.

And there are play-and-talk venues far beyond staid concert halls.

"Whenever I appear in a school or hospital or wherever, I do a question-and-answer period where people can ask me about the music or anything else. People ask all sorts of questions. The other day a kid asked me: 'When did you start to become famous?' Most of the places I speak they prepare them [with information about the performer and classical music in general], but you'd be surprised at how very bright these kids are about things anyway. Also, a lot of these kids have seen me on 'Sesame Street.' "

A classical musician can't be much more of a popularizer of the profession than to appear on "Sesame Street."

"I've always been so enthusiastic about that program, in part because my own children watched it and I thought it'd be nice if I could do anything for it. I watched it myself just as much as they did. I really like the idea of talking about classical music to all these people watching in their houses."

As much a family man as a music-making man, the 48-year-old violinist and his wife, Toby, have five children. They've often gathered in their New York living room to watch daddy cavort with the Muppets and tykes on "Sesame Street."

In one Perlman "Sesame" episode, he demonstrated the difference between things that are difficult and things that are easy. He showed how difficult it was for him to climb six stairs, but how easily he could play a complex violin passage; by way of contrast, a small child on the show climbed the stairs with ease, but found the violin a challenge.

His effort to climb stairs wasn't owing to his bulky physique, but rather to the childhood bout with polio that still makes him rely on braces and canes to get around.

Mr. Perlman's early life is an exemplary case of overcoming adversity through sheer determination, and also a love of classical music. Israeli-born, he'd already developed a love of the violin as a toddler in Tel Aviv. Afflicted with polio in the late 1940s, he didn't let it stop him from taking the violin lessons that very quickly turned into a professional career.

He came to the United States in 1958 to appear on the "Ed Sullivan Show," playing "The Flight of the Bumblebee," and subsequently touring the country. He studied with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School, made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 and won the Leventritt Competition in 1964.

The ensuing international career included appearances with the Israeli Philharmonic, with whom he made some precedent-establishing appearances in Eastern Bloc countries in the late 1980s. For this soloist and orchestra to appear in countries like Poland and the then-Soviet Union amounted to a reassertion of Jewish culture in lands where World War II had nearly snuffed it out.

His strong identification with Judaism also explains his eagerness to participate in Steven Spielberg's movie "Schindler's List," where his violin solos are an important part of nTC John Williams' score.

"I'd never done something like that before," he says of playing in synchronization to film footage projected in a recording studio. "It has to seem spontaneous, and yet it has to be planned."

He compliments Mr. Williams for "doing a wonderful job of capturing the Eastern European Jewish flavor of the scenes."

The film itself he finds "devastating, with scenes that are very upsetting to watch. Even watching with the technical interest of how the music fit in, I could not disassociate myself from the content."

Asked whether this soundtrack will lead to further movie work, he quickly retorts with his characteristic wit: "It does not put me in the position of official movie fiddler."


What:Itzhak Perlman recital

When: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Beth Tfiloh Community School, 3300 Old Court Road

Tickets: $150 (including dessert reception with the artist), $100 and $60

Call: (410) 653-7284

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