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Itzhak Perlman Visits Penn State

Lisa Marie Mazzucco
courtesy of Mr. Perlman

World famous violinist, Itzhak Perlman will pay a visit to Penn State, University Park on Thursday evening, November 14. He'll talk about his life, share some photos and video, and play music with pianist Rohan da Silva in a progarm called "An Evening with Itzhak Perlman." WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with him by phone about his career and his upcoming performance.

You'll find more information on Perlman's performance here.


Host Craig Johnson: This is All Things Considered. I'm Craig Johnson. World famous violinist Itzhak Perlman will pay a visit to Penn State University Park Thursday night. WPSU's Kristine Allen spoke with him by phone about his career and his upcoming performance.

[Violin playing]

Kristine Allen narrating: Itzhak Perlman is an undisputed master of the violin. He's been a classical violinist for some six decades now and he got his start very early.

Allen to Perlman: I understand you decided on your own to play the violin at a very early age. How did that happen?

Itzhak Perlman: You know, you get attracted to something. In my case, it was listening to violin on the radio and just saying, that's what I want to do.

Allen: You were very young at the time around age three, I think. Do you remember having that discovery?

Perlman: Sort of, yeah. Yeah. It was kind of a natural thing, you know? I mean, this is a gradual thing that you want to do and you express it to your parents and then they do whatever they're supposed to do.

Allen: Did they take you seriously right away when you were that young?

Perlman: Yes, they did.

Allen: And that's lucky for you and for all of us, too. Your parents didn't push you to play the violin, that was all you, but I understand they did have to get on your case to practice a little bit.

Perlman: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. Well, really, nobody likes to practice. It's drudgery. When you practice, you're by yourself, you sit alone, then you practice. Sometimes the parents also play the same instruments. So they practice with you. In my case, and my parents were not musicians or anything like that, so they all, they could tell me was that I should practice.


Allen narrating: Perlman must have overcome his aversion to practice because he got very good very quickly. And at the age of 13, he got a big break in his career.

Allen to Perlman: Ed Sullivan came to Israel and heard you play and then invited you to be on his TV show back in the 1950s. How did that all come about?

Perlman: Well, he just came to Israel and he wanted to have a show, and I just played for him. And uh, you know, I played for him and he said, "OK, that's what I want. You know, I want you on my show." So it was, you know, there were other, other artists from there that he, uh, took. And so I suppose I was, I was in the violin department because he had a variety show. Obviously he was a master of the variety show. He needed a lot of different acts and I was one of the acts.

Allen: What was it like to be on the Ed Sullivan show when you were 13 years old?

Perlman: It was extremely exciting. I mean, I've never been exposed to anything having to do with actual television, you know, because in Israel at that time talking about 1958 there was no television yet. So at that time this was really totally a new experience. The only thing that we had in Israel at that time was radio. So there I was, you know, jumping from listening to something on radio to going on something that, a box that you can see people in the box.

Allen: That night on the Ed Sullivan show, Perlman played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, which he plays here in recording from 1993.


Allen: You've played so many places: concert halls around the world, on Sesame Street, at the White House. Uh, at President Obama's first inauguration. Is there one special place or special performance that stands out more than the others?

Perlman: Well, the Obama inauguration was the most amazing experience on many, many levels. Obviously every time that I would play at the White House, it was something extremely special. For which whatever President it was, you know. My first concerts in Israel coming back after studying here at the States and playing the first time. That was fantastic. So a lot of wonderful experiences.

Allen: As a classical musician, you're playing works that have been around sometimes for hundreds of years and you've been sometimes playing them for decades. Do they stay fresh for you?

Perlman: That's an excellent question. You mentioned one of the great challenges of a musician that is a classical musician, and I talk about that also to my students. The answer, at least part of the answer is that when the work is a great work of art, you know, a great musical work, I find that I don't have a problem with it. You know, I just concentrate on what the music says to me. And the other thing is to not automatically play something the same way that you played yesterday or last week or a month ago or a year ago. But to always look for something new in the music, and especially when the music is a great masterpiece, you know, take for example the Beethoven violin concerto. I find it not at all a problem, you know, because I tried to do basically to concentrate on the actual music, what it says to me.

Allen narrating: This is Perlman in a recording of the Beethoven concerto from the 1990s.


Allen to Perlman: So tell me about this performance you're doing at Penn State. What will we hear and what will we see?

Perlman: What you're going to hear is a little bit of what we spoke about right now. I'm going to talk about my life and I'm going to play a little bit. Then you maybe you're going to see, you know, a photo album or maybe a few videos and so on. It's going to be like a very informal kind of evening where I tell my story and hopefully people will be interested in my story, you know. I will talk about my journey in music and so on and so forth.

Allen narrating: Perlman will reflect on his career and play some music with his longtime collaborator pianist Rohan de Silva, Thursday night at Penn state. I'm Kristine Allen, WPSU.

Host Craig Johnson: You can see An Evening with Itzhak Perlman, Thursday evening at 7:30 in Eisenhower Auditorium on Penn State's University Park Campus. You'll find details on the community calendar at wpsu.org/radio


Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."
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