Some artists are known more for their sensitivity, others for their virtuosity: Itzhak Perlman brings both to his playing, using his consummate technique to convey a profound sensitivity. His popularity also owes much to his engaging personality and sense of humour. He has embraced an uncommonly broad-ranging repertoire.
Itzhak Perlman was born to Polish parents who had emigrated to Israel in the 1930s. Since contracting poliomyelitis at the age of four, he has had to use crutches to walk, and remain seated to play the violin. His first musical revelation was listening to Jascha Heifetz on the radio. He began taking music lessons in Tel Aviv from Rivkah Goldgart, a violin teacher trained in the Russian tradition. He rapidly drew the attention of Isaac Stern, who advised him to continue his training at the Juilliard School in New York. He was admitted to the school in 1958 and started working with Ivan Galamian. He came from a modest background, so appeared on popular American TV shows to finance his studies. He became a pupil of Dorothy Delay, who was known for her great psychological insights and whose teaching consistently strove for students' personal fulfilment. It was a decisive encounter for Itzhak Perlman's career. In her own words, she made Itzhak Perlman work on his right hand - the bow-wielding, expressive hand - whereas Goldgart had developed his left hand for virtuosity. In these two complementary teaching approaches lay the key to his talent.
Itzhak Perlman made a highly-acclaimed debut at Carnegie Hall in 1963. The following year, he won the Leventritt Competition before a jury comprised of Isaac Stern, George Szell, Lukas Foss and William Steinberg. He also made his first recording: the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. In 1967, he gave his first concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He would maintain a close working relationship with this orchestra, and made numerous recordings and tours with it, sometimes to politically sensitive countries such as China, Poland, Hungary and the former USSR. In 1969, he took part in the legendary video recording of Schubert's Trout Quintet with Pinchas Zuckerman (viola), Jacqueline Du Pré (cello), Zubin Mehta (double bass) and Daniel Barenboim (piano). Throughout his career, he would remain very loyal to a small circle of artists for chamber music, including Pinchas Zuckerman, cellist Lynn Harrell and the pianists Daniel Barenboim, Bruno Canino and Vladimir Ashkenazy. In the 1980s, he forged closer ties with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009, he performed alongside Gabriela Montero, Yo-Yo Ma and Anthony McGill at Barack Obama's investiture. He also leads an active teaching career and gives numerous masterclasses. He holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Chair of Violin Studies at the Juilliard School. He has played in well-known film scores, such as Fantasia 2000, Schindler's List and Memoirs of a Geisha. He has played jazz with his friend André Previn and Oscar Peterson, and has also recorded klezmer music. In the course of his career, he has played several violins: a Pierre Guarnerius, a Joseph Guarnerius and several Stradivarius, including the Soil Stradivarius, acquired from its previous owner, Yehudi Menuhin.
Six landmark dates in the life of Itzhak Perlman:
- 1949: contracted poliomyelitis
- 1958: admitted to the Juilliard School
- 1963: made his debut at Carnegie Hall
- 1967: began working with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
- 1990: toured the formed USSR with Zubin Mehta
- 2009: played at Barack Obama's investiture
Six key recordings by Itzhak Perlman:
- Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra by Tchaikovsky, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (1964)
- Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Beethoven, with Vladimir Ashkenazy, Decca (1975)
- Concerto for Violin by Brahms, Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Carlo Maria Guilini, EMI (1976)
- Concerto for Violin by Beethoven, Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Carlo Maria Guilini, EMI (1980)
- Sonatas and Partitas by Bach, EMI (1987)
- Klezmer: In the Fiddler’s House, EMI (1996)
Official website: http://www.itzhakperlman.com/
Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, March 2017