The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman turns 70. Plus the Willy Street Chamber Players perform Beethoven on WORT this morning. | September 3, 2015

ALERT: The Ear’s friend Rich Samuels of WORT 89.9 FM writes: At 7:21 a.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 3, I’ll be broadcasting the Willy Street Chamber Players’ performance of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor. It was recorded live on July 11 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church. Featured are Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari (violins), Micah Behr (viola) and Mark Bridges (cello).

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Monday, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) turned 70.

Itzhak Perlman by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Perlman, who possesses a sharp sense of humor,  likes to call himself a fiddler.

But he is so much more.

Perlman – who once made the cover of Time magazine and who used to fly in his private jet — has played a lot in Madison since the beginning of his concert career, at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Civic Center and the Overture Center.

The Ear thinks that his most memorable appearance in Madison was before his stratospheric concert fees made him either unaffordable or affordable only to the very well-heeled.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

That was way back when WUT director Ralph Sandler booked the young Perlman to perform the complete solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Perlman performed them over two back-to-back nights at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The event proved to be one of the highlights of all the music that The Ear has ever heard in Madison. It was pretty incredible, watching Perlman sit there by himself on stage as he poured forth these fabulous works.

Itzhak Perlman playing closeup

The Ear likes Perlman’s playing a lot, especially from the early days when he won his share of Grammy Awards.

A great example are his recordings of the sonatas for violin and piano by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that he did with Daniel Barenboim and the sonatas for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms that he did with Vladimir Ashkenazy. His recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini are also outstanding classics.

But to be honest, the later Perlman often disappointed me.

The Ear heard one performance in Madison where Perlman seemed bored by the music, as if he were phoning it in or going through the motions without much emotional engagement. (Below is Perlman in the 1960s.)

itzhak perlman ca 1960s BW

Then there was the time when he relied too much on his post-intermission shtick of pretending to choose and call out impromptu virtuosic encore-like pieces for the second half of his program while he also related to the audience the baseball scores from the World Series with his beloved home town team, the New York Yankees.

Then there was the time when many people went to hear him play the deeply emotional theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Willliams as an encore. He didn’t. (Listen to the YouTube video of it, with over 6 million hits, at the bottom.)

Nonetheless, Perlman remains a charismatic major talent who sure knows how to fill seats and please high-end audiences.

By some accounts, Perlman’s playing has declined in recent years. The Ear wonders if post-polio syndrome has anything to do with it, but can’t recall reading anything about that.

But whatever you think of his own playing, Perlman continues to devote himself to teaching young students with the program established by him and his wife Toby (below left) and to conduct as well as to perform solo recitals and concertos.

Toby and Itzhak Perlman Music Program Mission

This past week NPR or National Public Radio featured a look back at the many facets of Perlman’s long career. It included some great photos as well as some terrific audio samples.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/31/435224636/itzhak-perlman-charting-a-charismatic-career

What do you think of Itzhak Perlman and the various phases of his career?

The Ear wants to hear.

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1 Comment »

  1. Happy 70th birthday to Mr. Perlman.

    Good column with a nice mix of praise and some criticism. But we are all human. And he’s had polio since the age of 4 and needs crutches and a motorized vehicle to get around; he also must sit down to play the violin. When he began studying the violin as a youngster, he had problems because he was too small to even hold the instrument (and he was denied permission to study at a prestigious school in Israel for that reason).

    The main story should be his struggles to overcome his sizeable problems and handicaps, and his tremendous success in doing so; not the fact that his playing at the age of 70 might not be as good as it was 50 years ago.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 3, 2015 @ 10:42 pm


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