By Aline Reynolds — Agence France-Presse (AFP), July 20, 2009
Violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, whose mastery has enraptured millions around the world, believes one of his proudest achievements is imparting his knowledge and love of music to a new generation.
Fifty years after a teenaged Perlman made his American debut and stunned audiences with his heart-rending violin solos, a total of 38 youngsters are tuning up for a packed summer study program under his gentle, but forceful, guidance.
Perlman, 63, who was born in Israel in 1945 and emigrated to the United States in 1958, says the highly coveted summer school was initially the idea of his wife and fellow violinist, Toby.
“It started with a dream that she had to start a program or a school that would be something that she really believed in,” Perlman told AFP in a phone interview.
“I suppose you could call it a family affair,” he added, as Toby Perlman mused how even in the 1960s as a music student at the prestigious Juilliard conservatory she would fantasize about opening her own music school.
Now the Perlman Music Program is celebrating its 15th anniversary, hosting students aged 12 to 18 from all over the world, many from Asia, for the six-week camp at Shelter Island, New York.
For Perlman, who played at the January inauguration of President Barack Obama, the program is a natural extension of a lifetime spent delighting audiences, which has seen him even step into the conductor’s shoes on occasion.
Conducting, like music in general, transcends cultures, says the curly-haired, kind-faced musician, who after a bout of polio at the age of four lost the use of his legs and always plays sitting down.
“It has something to do with telepathy as to what happens when you get a beat and what kind of sound you get,” Perlman said.
“A lot of it is unexplainable. It’s nice to have a little mystery in art.”
And he particularly enjoys performing in small ensembles. “You’re dealing with great, great music,” he said of the classical chamber music repertoire.
When playing chamber music, “you have to breathe with two or three or four or five other people, not just play with closed ears.”
Perlman continues to perform around the world, conduct and teach, and now serves as director of the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra.
He credits his wife’s summer school program launched in 1993 with showing him how to become a more versatile musician by allowing him to teach and conduct on a regular basis.
Now based on a sprawling campus on Shelter Island, the program is also broadening its horizons.