Itzhak Perlman (born 1945) is accepted and celebrated by many as one of the greatest classical violinists of the twentieth century. Overcoming polio and its crippling effects, Perlman was a distinguished musician in his native Israel prior to entering his teens. He travels around the world performing and teaming with other great musicians and he has brought a new style, individuality and technical ability to classical music and the violin.
Itzhak Perlman was born on August 31, 1945 in Tel Aviv, then the largest city in Palestine (a few years later it became the nation of Israel) to Chaim and Shoshana Perlman. His parents, both natives of Poland, had immigrated to Palestine in the mid-1930s before meeting and marrying. Perlman had wanted to be a violinist after hearing a concert performed on the radio when he was a mere three-years-old. His father worked as a barber and bought his young son his first violin from a second-hand shop shortly thereafter for approximately six dollars. Perlman practiced intensely every day before facing one of is toughest challenges.
When Perlman was four-years-old, he was stricken with polio, which would forever leave him disabled. He continued to practice for the full year it took for him to recover and was soon able to walk using the aid of leg braces and crutches. Upon being released from the hospital, Perlman enrolled at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music where he studied under the famed Madame Rivka Goldart on a scholarship from the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation. By the time he was seven-years-old, he was making regular appearances with the Ramat-Gan Orchestra in Tel Aviv and the Broadcasting Orchestra in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1955, at the age of ten, he gave his first solo recital and was widely considered a music prodigy in Israel.
Moves To America
In 1958, at the age of 13, Perlman was brought to New York City, by the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation's (CBS) Ed Sullivan Show for two performances during the show's "Cavalcade of Stars." His rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and Wieniawski's Polonaise Brillante made Perlman a star in America and he soon decided to stay for good. After being joined by his parents, Perlman toured American and Canadian cities performing under the sponsorship of the Zionist Organization of America which soon aided Perlman in gaining admission into the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Perlman, under a special arrangement with the New York City board of education, finished his secondary education during his five years in Juilliard's preparatory division. He then enrolled in their regular division studying under Ivan Galamian and Dorothy Delay and would eventually earn a diploma.
On March 5, 1963, Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in New York City with Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 1 in F Sharp Minor. New York City was in the midst of a newspaper strike and the concert received no coverage, but Perlman came to the attention of famed violinists Zino Francescatti, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin. Stern introduced Perlman to impresario Sol Hurok, who would manage his career.
On April 21, 1964, Perlman won the 23rd-annual Edgar M. Leventritt Foundation competition at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He was the youngest of the 19 contestants and performed Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Wieniawski compositions before an all-star panel of judges. This is the same music competition that helped launch the careers of popular classical musicians such as Van Cliburn and Pinchas Zukerman, and Perlman would be the next name on that list of great musicians.
Performs Around the World
The Edgar M. Leventritt Foundation competition is one of the most prestigious and demanding international musical competitions and Perlman's winning of its Memorial Award, and the $1, 000 that went along with it, guaranteed him solo appearances all over the nation. In 1964 and 1965, he traveled to Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Denver, Colorado; Buffalo, New York and New Haven, Connecticut performing for sold-out crowds.
In 1964, Perlman performed twice again for CBS's Ed Sullivan Show before traveling to Washington, DC to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto alongside the National Symphony Orchestra. In October of that year he repeated this performance alongside the Israel National Youth Symphony before traveling back to his birthplace in January of 1965 for the first time since 1958. Perlman performed eight concerts throughout Israel and culminated with a performance of Tchaikovsky pieces at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv for which he received a 15-minute ovation.
In 1965 and 1966, Perlman performed in 30 cities during his first major concert tour of America. In Chicago, his performance was so compelling that the Chicago Daily News stated "It was possible to imagine that Itzhak Perlman was born with a violin protruding from his left clavicle and never had to learn to play it, and more than he had to learn to breathe." In February of 1966, he played again with the National Symphony Orchestra. His performance of Karl Goldmark's Violin Concerto in A Minor at the Philharmonic Hall left the crowd breathless both there and at Toronto's Massey Hall, where he played Paganini and Prokofiev a few days later with the Toronto Symphony under Seiji Ozawa.
In 1967 and 1968, Perlman went even further with performances in 50 American cities and trips abroad. The highlight of the 1967 tour was his Honolulu, Hawaii, performance of Stravinsky's rare Violin Concerto with the composer himself conducting. Perlman would go on to rack up performances in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Dallas, Texas and Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1967 before moving on to hugely-attended shows at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California, the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Washington, D.C. and the Ravina Festival in Chicago, Illinois.
Earlier that year, on January 5, 1967, Perlman married Toby Lynn Friedlander, a native New Yorker and fellow Juilliard violinist he met in 1964 while performing at a summer camp concert. In 1968, Perlman performed in Portugal, Italy, Scotland, England, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel. The constant touring and his exceptional performances quickly made Perlman one of the most-recognized classical musicians in the world.
Hoping to individualize his performances and make them more challenging to perform, in April of 1969, Perlman gave a special interpretative performance of Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D in New York City. This performance, as well as other such performances, set Perlman apart from other musicians of renown as one that not only could play technically well, but could also change arrangements to make them fit the performer instead of the other way around.
His 1970 performances included stops in Toronto and Stratford, Ontario and a special performance in Washington, D.C. alongside conductor George Szell. His constant search for new or rare works to perform led him to a 1971 performance of Dvorak's Violin Concerto in Washington, D.C. and New York City. A performance of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto in New York City over the summer of that year garnered him even more renown as an individually-minded classical musician.
In 1972, Perlman performed in England and Israel along with performances in New York City and at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C. In 1973, despite a telephone death threat called in to him at the theater, Perlman performed flawlessly at New York's Museum of Modern Art. In 1974, Perlman performed in New York City with the Baltimore, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania orchestras and gave two Carnegie Hall chamber music concerts with Isaac Stern. He also continued his large-scale touring with extensive performance dates in both Canada and the United States.
On January 30, 1975, Perlman gave a performance of Chiaroscuro, a piece that had been specially composed for him by Robert Mann, at Carnegie Hall in New York City. His performance was widely hailed and the New York Times wrote that Perlman "now has taken the quantum leap into a tiny group of artists-the names of Rubinstein and Segovia come most quickly to mind-who make audiences fall deeply in love with them."
After 1975, Perlman would perform all of his 100-plus annual concerts with a $60, 000 Stradivarius violin he discovered after a comprehensive search. A fan of other genres of music, in 1975 Perlman and Andre Previn released an album of Scot Joplin ragtime compositions on Angel Records. This was not Perlman's first album, he had been recording standard classical arrangements for the RCA Victor and London Records labels since his earliest days following his win at the Edgar M. Leventritt Foundation competition.
In 1986, Perlman was awarded the Medal of Liberty for his efforts in promoting classical music across international boundaries. As a result of this touring, Perlman has played with almost every symphony orchestra in the world. He has also been awarded honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard and Brandeis Universities as well as one from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.
Perlman lives in New York City with his wife and their five children. He continues to tour extensively and, in 1998, toured in the United States and Japan as well as performing for Public Broadcasting System (PBS) classical music television specials. In 1975, he started teaching private students and also participates in the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. He continues to amaze audiences and other artists alike continually improving his technical ability and changing his style to best fit his individuality to remain the "fiddler's fiddler."
Further Reading on Itzhak Perlman
Schwarz, Boris, Great Masters of the Violin, Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Billboard, September 28, 1996.
Chicago Daily News, November 29, 1965.
Esquire, June, 1968.
Glamour, March 1987.
Houston Post, January 9, 1989.
New York Times, March 8, 1970; February 1, 1975.
Newsweek, April 14, 1980.
People, May 26, 1980; June 8, 1981; August 11, 1997.
Seattle Times, October 21, 1988.
Time, January 15, 1965.
"Classics World Biography -Itzhak Perlman, " BMG Classics, http://classicalmus.com/composers/perlman.html (May 7, 1998).