Itzhak Perlman’s Advice to Young Performers

Written by Elaina Stuppler

Itzhak Perlman is one of the most celebrated and extraordinarily talented violinists on the planet! On January 19th, he will be performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with the Oregon Symphony.

A few of his career highlights include winning 4 Emmys, 16 Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award! Maestro Perlman was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, National Medal of Arts by President Clinton, The Medal of Liberty by President Reagan, and honored with a Genesis Prize in Israel. He has played for presidents, royalty, and sold out concerts with every major orchestra around the world.

Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel. At age 13, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in the United States which led him to study at The Juilliard School. In 1964, he won the esteemed Leventritt Competition that launched his musical career. Later he became a conductor. He has conducted the Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit Symphonies as well as the New York, Israel, Berlin, London, and Los Angeles Philharmonics to name a few.

This week, I was fortunate to talk with Maestro Perlman and discuss his upcoming performance. He will be playing “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, op. 26” by Max Bruch (1838-1920). Mr. Perlman notes that the composition is “very lyrical and has virtuoso qualities as well. I love the piece and I have been playing it throughout my career and I am looking forward to playing it again.”

Itzhak Perlman is not only known for his talent, but also for his humor, huge heart, and philanthropy. He mentors and conducts student musicians at the Perlman Music Program which was founded in 1994 by his wife Toby, who is also a violinist.

At the Perlman Music Program, Mr. Perlman said his wife Toby’s philosophy champions the importance that “the student always has to be supported, not criticized, but supported gently and with a lot of things that will be helpful rather than critical.” Maestro Perlman discussed that music is not only the main thing at The Perlman Music Program, but it’s the special relationships developed between students. The musicians become a family once they get into the Perlman Music Program and “it’s a friendship for life!” One of the goals for the Perlman’s program is “not only to have violinists, cellists, violists, play very well, but to think about the relationships between the kids.”

“the student always has to be supported, not criticized, but supported gently and with a lot of things that will be helpful rather than critical.

Toby Perlman’s philosophy to student’s learning in Itzhak Perlman’s words

Mr. Perlman discussed that, “If somebody is upset with how they played, they always get support from their fellow students. That for me is the most important thing of the program is the relationship between the kids, between each other. And that’s what is Toby’s dream.”

Maestro Perlman has also performed on the acclaimed motion picture soundtrack, Schindler’s List and in 2016 recorded, “Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof,” both of which he worked with the legendary composer, John Williams. Mr. Perlman said, “to be able to do some of the soundtrack for the movie, Schindler’s List is an honor for me and I feel lucky that I was able to do it and he was thinking of me as the violin sound in that movie.”

Besides classical music, Itzhak Perlman also plays a style called, “Klezmer”. Klezmer music is an Eastern European Jewish genre of music which began centuries ago. The word “Klezmer” originates from the Yiddish words “klei” which means instrument or vessel and “zemer” which translates to song or melody. Klezmer music is usually played in festive occasions like weddings, religious events, and holidays where people dance along to the lively tempos. A Klezmer band can include violin, clarinet, flute, guitar, accordion, trumpet, tuba, piano, percussion, cello, cymbals and a hammered dulcimer which is played with two mallets and the strings are stretched over a trapezoidal board.

“Klezmer music is something I grew up with in Israel!” stated Mr. Perlman. PBS was doing a program about Klezmer music and they approached Itzhak Perlman to see if he would like to be the host of the program. At the time, he wasn’t really playing that style of music. But, while hosting, he had the opportunity to talk with several of the groups that were performing the Klezmer music and “one thing led to another and they asked me if I would like to jam with them and play around!” Maestro Perlman said, “I tried it and I realized that it was in my makeup, in my DNA, that it came very naturally to me to do it.”

Perlman continues, “The music has an interesting combination of structure, but also you want to improvise. And that is always a lot of fun for me to do, because as a classical musician we don’t do an awful lot of improvisation, because everything is written out.” With Klezmer music there is the structure and the form, but within that, you improvise which is a fun change of pace for him!

He adds, “When we play it, sometimes we actually have audiences dancing in the aisles, which is an experience that I am not used to!”

Thank you again to Maestro Perlman for taking time to speak with me. If you are unable to attend Itzhak Perlman’s concert with the Oregon Symphony, on January 19th at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, be sure to watch his performances. His music is so heartfelt and spectacular. And, if you are hungry, watch some of his fun food shows featuring his brilliant music!