Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 in Israel. He began playing on a toy violin at age three until he was old enough to play on a real violin. His family emigrated to the United States in 1958, and at age 13 he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, launching his professional career. I remember seeing that broadcast and my mother commenting on his skill and his young age at the time. This might have been that actual performance; if not, it’s from the same time period:
Perlman contracted polio at age four. When he first started performing, much was made of the poor kid with the crutches, and people speculated that his career would be short because of his disability. He proved the naysayers wrong by becoming one of the most popular violinists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, playing as a solo recitalist and symphonic soloist with a varied repertoire, performing with the finest orchestras all over the world, and also on television (such as The Late Show with David Letterman, Sesame Street, The Tonight Show, the Grammy Awards telecasts, and numerous Live From Lincoln Center Broadcasts) and in movies. He also advocates for the disabled.
One of his most famous performances was on the soundtrack of Schindler’s List, playing the gorgeous music of John Williams’ score.
In January 2009, Perlman participated in the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, premiering a piece written for the occasion by John Williams and performing with clarinetist Anthony McGill, pianist Gabriela Montero, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In December 2003 the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts granted Mr. Perlman a Kennedy Center Honor celebrating his distinguished achievements and contributions to the cultural and educational life of our nation. In May 2007, he performed at the State Dinner for Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, hosted by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at the White House.
In February 2008, Itzhak Perlman was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in the recording arts. His recordings regularly appear on the best-seller charts and have earned him fifteen Grammy Awards.
Click here to view a video of Perlman conducting and playing the solo in “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Perlman performed John Williams’ Air and Simple Gifts at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama along with Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet). (While the quartet did play live, the music played simultaneously over speakers and on television was a recording made earlier due to concerns that the cold weather might damage the instruments.)
The Perlman music program, founded in 1995 by Itzhak’s wife, Toby Perlman, and Suki Sandler, started as a summer camp for exceptional string musicians between the ages of 11 and 18. Over time, it expanded to a year-long program. Itzhak Perlman and other string teachers coach the students before they perform at venues such as the Sutton Place Synagogue and public schools. The program strives to have musicians who would otherwise practice alone develop a network of friends and colleagues.
Itzhak Perlman is also known for his delightful sense of humor. Here is a portion of a performance with the Boston Pops, John Williams, and Peter Schickele.
At least three documentaries have been made of Perlman’s life. Below is the trailer for the most recent one.
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