After pretty much hanging out at his East Hampton abode for the better part of the past year, Itzhak Perlman is preparing for two live, in-person concert performances on on May 22 and 23 with the Houston Symphony.
“I’m brushing up on my Beethoven,” he muses for this engagement, where he is titled as the Houston Symphony’s Artistic Partner. Perlman, now 75, normally gives about 40 performances a year, domestic and international.
Playing the violin from when he was 3 years old, giving his first recital at age 10, and being enrolled in New York City’s Juilliard School at age 13, Perlman has been very methodical “to make sure that the level of my performances is to my satisfaction,” he says. “I play on a strad (stradivarius). It is very helpful, offering me a lot of quality, a lot of joy—not for the sake of historical value—but to sound good. It makes it easier for me to do what I want to do.”
Perlman has won 16 Grammy Awards, four Emmy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Medal of Arts and Israel’s Genesis Prize. He’s also performed for many presidents and heads of state.
COVID-19 has given Perlman and his wife Toby, who’s also a classically trained violinist, the opportunity to focus on the Perlman Music Program, established 26 years ago on Shelter Island. During May and June, Perlman is coaching and teaching. There are about 45 students ages 18–30 and 36 students ages 12–18. They study for about three weeks.
The Perlman Music Program offers winter residencies in Sarasota along with private concerts, reunions and works in progress. Serious alumni often go to programs, play concerts “and do creative projects in music, which are very exciting,” Perlman describes.
Any advice to parents on whether or not their child might be a future Perlman?
“It is always good education to have your child learn a musical instrument,” he says. “Learning an instrument is one thing, so the child becomes familiar with it. But does your child have the talent and the passion to do it?
“It becomes a two-way street, a very interesting experience,” he continues. “Who do they want the child to play for? Themselves or for the child? Like studying math or history, nobody thinks about whether you should do it or not. This is part of education, and music is the same thing. The child has to want to do it. Nobody likes to practice, my parents pushed me to practice because I never liked to do it! It is drudgery, hard work. Can the child express something musically that moves you? Can the child watch a symphony orchestra and say, ‘I like this!’
“Music is part of the soul of society. You are more of a complete person if you can appreciate a beautiful performance of a symphony and recital, like viewing an incredible painting. It’s part of what society is all about,” he adds. “It is up to the parents to give the child the atmosphere at the home. Whether it is sports or music, you have to have talent. It’s always nice to be exposed to the arts.”
How did he find his way to the East End?
“We’ve been in East Hampton more than 30 years,” he says. “We started to come here because we have friends who live in the area. ‘You should come here; it’s a really great place. Why not look around to see if you’d like to get a house here?’ they said. … We found something very nice and the rest is history.
“As for other vacation spots, we don’t know anybody there,” he continues. “The nice thing is if you know somebody, your children have friends they know. … A lot of it is a social reason; you can have social interaction with friends, besides privacy. It’s fun, relaxing and a nice change from New York City.”
COVID-19 has motivated Perlman to even practice his humor. He welcomes viewers to his new YouTube channel. Perlman’s home videos have been going viral with more than six million views across all of his social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). A little story-telling, a little violin!
Check out Perlman’s new YouTube channel at youtube.com/ItzhakPerlmanOfficial.