NYT: Itzhak Perlman, Violin Legend, Still Proves the Critics Wrong
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Frank Forman
2020-09-03 00:50:32 UTC
NYT: Itzhak Perlman, Violin Legend, Still Proves the Critics Wrong

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Itzhak Perlman is a superstar in classical music. And not just
there: No other violinist enjoys his level of recognition among
people who don't even go to traditional concerts.

Many have seen him on "Sesame Street," or at Madison Square Garden
appearing alongside Billy Joel. They might have heard him speaking
about disability issues, informed by the childhood bout of polio
that took away the use of his legs. They might have teared up
listening to the theme from "Schindler's List," which Mr. Perlman
infused with ineffable melancholy.

Mr. Perlman has been so ubiquitous that it is easy to take for
granted his status as "the reigning virtuoso of the violin," as his
marketing materials put it. But with his 75th birthday arriving on
Aug. 31, this may be a moment to reassess how that reign began and
what has happened to the realm and all the superlatives. For some
guidance, there is a new box set from Sony of 18 CDs, from a 1967
Prokofiev album with Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Symphony
Orchestra to the klezmer tribute "Eternal Echoes," from 2012.

IFRAME: https://www.youtube.com/embed/z3richcoCUI

For me, it's also a chance to revisit an experience with Mr. Perlman
at a 2014 recital, a concert that left me disappointed, but also
curious to understand what it was his fans in the hall were

Part of my discomfort that evening came from the discrepancy between
the live performance he was giving and my memory of his albums. Like
many, I had come to know Mr. Perlman through his recordings. By the
time I was in my teens in the 1980s and becoming serious about
studying the violin, virtually every album of fiddle music I owned
featured him. The Solo Sonatas and Partitas of Bach, in which his
sustained, radiant sound seemed to draw ribbons of light in the
dark. The concertos of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, in which his violin
cut jubilantly through the orchestral forest in even the most
acrobatic passages. His Bruch simmered. His Mozart was flirtatious
and sunny. He was a universal entry point to classical music.

Mr. Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945 and fell in love with the
violin when he first heard it on the radio at 3. A year later, he
contracted polio, but after recovering showed a remarkable musical
talent. A significant break came in 1958, when he was invited to
play Mendelssohn on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Soon after that, he
moved to New York to study with the famed pedagogue Dorothy DeLay at
the Juilliard School.

On that 1967 debut recording, with Leinsdorf conducting the Boston
Symphony, he played Prokofiev's Second Concerto. Appropriately, the
first notes are Mr. Perlman's alone, and his sound in that
ruminating statement is soulful and knowing. Elsewhere, in passages
of agitated difficulty, the bravura and bite of the young
violinist's technique are evident. But it is the heat and depth of
tone that announced, from the beginning, an artist of uncommon

Mr. Perlman rose to fame as an earlier cohort of star violinists--
Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin--faded from view.
With his glamorous tone and dazzling technical skills, he was their
natural heir.

More collaborations with Leinsdorf followed, and with the pianist
Vladimir Ashkenazy, who would become a preferred chamber music
partner for years. By the 1980s, Mr. Perlman was the standard--and
some degree of standardization seemed part of the package. His
facility with acrobatic bowing techniques made him one of the most
persuasive champions of 19th-century showpieces, like the Paganini
caprices or Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." And his signature tone
resulted in definitive renditions of war horses of the concerto

Glossy, voluminous and cleanly contoured across the range, his sound
was uncommonly reliable, reproducible and brightly projected. It
aligned perfectly with the high-fidelity technology that was
changing both the way people listened to music at home and what they
expected to hear in live concerts.

And onscreen: Mr. Perlman proved a natural communicator on
television, advocating for music and disability rights with a
winning combination of self-deprecating charm and self-assurance. In
1993, it was his violin that deepened the pathos of the "Schindler's
List" theme, which for a vast swath of listeners remains his
signature tune. On Spotify, it has been streamed over 35 million
times--five times as many as his most popular classical tracks on
the service: an eye-wateringly difficult Paganini caprice and a
somewhat stodgy summer storm from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

In 1994, Mr. Perlman formalized his increasing devotion to
education. His wife, the violinist Toby Perlman, founded the Perlman
Music Program, through which both continue to nurture gifted teenage
string players. The course includes a robust course of contemporary
music, taught not by Mr. Perlman but by visiting specialists: His
own dips into the music of his time have been rare, and even more
rarely on the experimental side of things.

Yet even as Mr. Perlman's fame grew outside of the classical music
scene, his stature inside it shrank. One reason is that, with fewer
media opportunities for classical artists, the hierarchical shape of
the field began to cave in, even as that field narrowed. The
historically informed performance movement revolutionized approaches
to early music and whipped up an appetite for fleeter and more
feathery readings, especially of Bach. A new generation of concert
violinists, like Janine Jansen, have found ways to integrate the
lessons of the period-instrument movement with symphony-hall glamour
and punch; by contrast, Mr. Perlman's style can seem staid and

Other trends moved from niche markets into the mainstream, where
tastes were more open to diversity. Contemporary music created
specialist players familiar with its techniques and technological
demands. The cellist Yo-Yo Ma, among others, used his star power to
familiarize concert audiences with non-Western instruments. No one
violinist could preside over such a polyglot scene as the reigning

And Mr. Perlman's skills began to deteriorate. Critics called out
his "careless playing" and "effortful intonation." That matched my
own experience at Lincoln Center in 2014, a program which began with
a rendition of a Vivaldi sonata that was almost obtusely
old-fashioned and stodgy. His tone was still vibrant and vigorous,
but it had lost much of the pliancy and depth that had warmed
earlier recordings.

But the printed part of the program (which also included works by
Ravel, Beethoven and Schumann) was only the prelude. Mr. Perlman
played eight sweet and flashy encores, which he picked, miming
impatience, from a huge stack of sheet music before introducing them
with the odd anecdote or droll comment.

Though the show of generosity and spontaneity felt manipulative to
me, the audience loved it. Undoubtedly charisma had a lot to do with
this. And I suspect that what many listeners heard was a palimpsest
combining the Perlman they knew from recordings with the one playing
live in front of them.

If the flaws in his playing registered at all to such listeners,
they might not have perceived as such. String instruments can have a
very direct way of showing the age of their player--unlike the
piano, on which weakening faculties more often translate into simple
flubbed notes. A violin can betray, but also humanize an aging
musician. Recent footage of Ida Haendel, who died last month at (it
is thought) 96, and Ivry Gitlis, now 98, offer a fascinating mix of
frailty, beauty and ironclad talent.

As I watch these videos, I come to believe that part of the
fascination lies in the way the corporeality of the player presses
to the forefront. After a lifetime dedicated to doing justice to
great composers, when we expect performers to be almost transparent
vehicles for the music, nature invites us to consider their humanity
--not in some abstract, transcendent manner, but flesh-and-blood,
warts and all.

Mr. Perlman's playing is still far from wrinkled. While his Vivaldi
now bears the sepia tint of another era, he has been in business
long enough to have seen fashions come and go. And it is strategic
for him to make his late-career concerts a bit more about him and a
bit less about Vivaldi. The sheer brilliance of his sound goes a
long way in disarming scholarly scruples and critical quibbles. And
whether or not they subscribe to every detail of his style, aspiring
soloists would do well to study an art of which he is indeed perhaps
the reigning virtuoso: engaging an audience, and playing it both for
pathos and laughs.
Audio Phiiosis
2020-09-03 22:59:16 UTC
IP's off-stage attitude is insufferable!!! He could learn much from Yo-Yo to deal with this problem but it is doubtful that he would even care to do so.