Perlman during a performance at Miami’s Knight Concert Hall in 2010
If it were up to John Richard, president and CEO of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, violinist ItzhakPerlman would be his in-house string genius. “His masterful playing has made him a perennial favorite with Miami audiences, who fill our Knight Concert Hall every time we present him,” he says.
But Perlman’s been in demand for the past 50 years. From his first appearance on the American scene as a prodigious 13-year-old on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, the Israel-born Perlman has built the rarest kind of career, one that has made him not simply one of the few household names in classical music but a beloved, genial worldwide ambassador of culture in general.
The list of honors is extensive, far larger than the landmarks that are easy to point to: 15 Grammy awards, four Emmys, a National Medal of Arts in 2000, and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. Not to mention being an advocate for the disabled; he lost the use of his legs to polio that struck him at age 4.
“He’s so much fun, doing whatever he’s doing,” says the pianist Emanuel Ax, who partnered with Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma for a disc in 2010 of the two Mendelssohn piano trios. “He does everything right the first time, and he makes a lot of jokes while you’re rehearsing.”
Perlman also works with talented string players each summer in The Perlman Music Program, founded in 1993 by his violinist wife, Toby, with whom he has five children.
But above all, what makes him exceptional is the music. “There is no other violinist who makes the violin sound like a voice more than he does,” says Kristin Lee, a rising young Korean-American violinist who studied with Perlman beginning in 2000 after he heard her play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at Juilliard and went backstage and asked to be her teacher.
She accepted, of course. “I knew ItzhakPerlman as the living god of the violin, so it really took me a long time to process that I was going to call him my very own teacher. It was a dream come true,” Lee, 27, says. In February, she’ll make her South Florida debut with a recital at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, the same venue where Perlman—whom Lee, in common with all his students, calls “Mr. P.”—will give two recitals just before his Knight Concert Hall appearance.
Perlman’s recital programs, usually presented with his longtime accompanist, the Sri Lankan pianist Rohan de Silva, routinely feature large sonatas, followed by a selection of brief showpieces that he announces from the stage. They include lighter, demonstrative fare such as Antonio Bazzini’sDance of the Goblins, Kreisler’sTempo diMenuetto, and the beautiful, haunting theme from John Williams’s score for Schindler’s List, a film for which he performed the violin solos. “Every time I play it, no matter where I play it, people are so moved by it,” Perlman said in 2010.
Despite the immense talent, “his most outstanding quality is the humble, joyful, and human characteristic which he brings onto the stage and to his playing,” Lee says. “Even away from the stage, he really doesn’t see himself as a celebrity, but just a man who loves music and the happiness in life.” ItzhakPerlman appears Monday, December 16, at 2 pm, and Wednesday, December 18, at 8 pm at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (701 Okeechobee Blvd., 800-572-8471), and Thursday, December 19, at 8 pm at the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-949-6722