Violinist Perlman inspiring the next generation



NEW YORK, Aline Reynolds - 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 heartrending violin solos, a total of 38 youngsters are tuning up for a packed summer study program under his gentle, but forceful, guidance.



Violinist Perlman inspiring the next generation
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.
After a successful collaboration twice with Israel's Tel Aviv Conservatory and once with China's Shanghai Conservatory, a two-week trip to Jerusalem in May is on the cards.
"I believe that traveling abroad everybody wins. It's exciting," Toby Perlman, the program's director, said. "Everybody is enriched artistically from the different points of view."
She loves bonding with students from other countries through the common language of music, which shatters all cultural and linguistic barriers.
"Suddenly you're sitting in the cafeteria in Shanghai and you realize, 'Oh my goodness, they're all friends.' That moment when the two groups merge and become a community is thrilling," she said.
Finances remain an issue though, and the main reason why the number of summer students never goes above 38, as the couple search for additional funding.
"It started out with 38 kids and it stays that way," Itzhak Perlman said. "We always have to think, 'what can we do to raise funds' especially these days with the economy. It's an occupation in itself," he said.
He admires how in Venezuela some orchestras are fully funded by the state, wishing that US music programs could also be federally supported.
"It's absolutely the most mind-boggling experience for me," he said. "I'm always surprised that we can't do something like this in the States."
Even though he is now into his 60s, Perlman's performance schedule shows no signs of letting up. "If I had my choice I'd go all over the States in one of those trailers," he said.
"But I don't like to travel that much. I hope to rest a little bit soon."
Over the span of his career, he has collaborated with some of the world's top musicians such as Placido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma, and brought to life composer John Williams's score for the film "Schindler's List."
But performing before the millions who watched Obama's inauguration was a particular thrill.
"It's one of the great honors bestowed on anybody, particularly in that presidential inauguration, which had so many firsts. I'm very happy that we were able to do it," he said.
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Sunday, July 19th 2009
Aline Reynolds
           


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