Itzhak Perlman Discussion and Concert Review - A Great Man makes Great Music

On January 6, 2016, Itzhak Perlman, violin virtuoso, maestro and music teacher extraordinaire, made two very special appearances at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois, both as part of the closing events celebrating ADA 25. This initiative, celebrating 25 years since the inception of the Americans With Disabilities Act, saw 160 organizations come together in Chicago to promote diversity, access, inclusion and opportunity. The Harris Theater’s stated mission is “to partner with an array of Chicago’s emerging and midsize arts organizations to help them build infrastructure and achieve artistic growth and long-term organizational sustainability"; the Harris was an avid participant in the work of ADA 25. In the afternoon, free to the public, Mr. Perlman participated in an intimate conversation in partnership with Marca Bristo of Access Living, Chicago’s center for independent living, introduced by Michelle T. Boone, Chicago’s Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. In the evening, as part of the Harris’ Hear The Music 2015-2016 Series, Perlman directed the Julliard Orchestra in its first appearance in Chicago for 10 years. With the help of the Harris Theatre’s 2 new high-speed, high-capacity elevators, the discussion and the concert were accessible to all.

The Julliard Orchestra and Itzhak Perlman; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Fresh from his receipt of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Genesis Prize (known as the Jewish Nobel) and on the heels of the release of several new sets of his CD’s, Perlman made light of these and the many other honors and awards he’s received throughout his career. “I’m so honorable”, he scoffed, commenting “an award shouldn’t change you as a person.” Throughout the discussion, the word that was repeatedly used to describe his influence was “inspiring”, and certainly his modesty, wry humor and palpable sweetness coupled with his enormous talent and generosity are very compelling.

Itzhak Perlman and Nura Aly; photo by Johnny Knight

Perlman, though an advocate for accessibility, and more than willing to discuss the effects of childhood polio on his life, seems to have come to grips with his physical problems at a very young age, and in his early career, understandably, did not want to focus on them. Perhaps this is because of the way he was raised.  He told the audience that his schoolchums in Israel were not just supportive-they ignored his physical issues. Indeed, because of his avidity with his crutches, he was always chosen as goalie-nothing could get past him-and this seems to be the case today, as well. Perlman speeds about in his scooter as quickly and cleverly as he fields repartee. When asked what was next after the Presidential medal, he gave the same answer as his parents gave after his recuperation from illness-“Go back to practicing!” He advised us all that no law is self-enforcing; we must not become lazy, and continue to develop the axioms of the ADA.

Itzhak Perlman at the discussion: photo by Johnny Knight

The concert was introduced by Ara Guzelimian, Provost and Dean of Julliard, where Perlman is actively involved in teaching-he commented earlier in the day “Performing, conducting and teaching are all connected.” The program was all Tchaikovsky-dramatic, soulful, romantic and downright gorgeous. Before the intermission, the audience was treated to the "Fantasie" overture to Romeo and Juliet and the "Rococo Variations", with Julliard student soloist Edvard Pogossian on cello. After, the audience heard the stunning 6th Symphony, known as “The Pathetique”, which he dedicated to Pierre Boulez, Principal Guest Conductor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who passed away the previous day. Guzelimian told a charming anecdote about Boulez, who also taught at Julliard. Once Boulez was asked whether he loved the great enthusiasm of the Julliard students. He replied, in his Gallic-accented English, “Yes, I like that. But I like more their competence!”

Itzhak Perlman and Edvard Pogossian; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The students were more than competent-their young, avid faces soulfully bent, their fingers respectfully holding the shining instruments, they poured out their souls for the attendees and their maestro. "Romeo and Juliet", revised over a decade by Russian master Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, has long been considered a masterpiece. "Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra", (Opus 33), really composed by Tchaikovsky and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a young cellist who substantially revised the piece, was triumphantly presented by Julliard's young Pogossian and the orchestra, and the highly emotional "Pathetique" seemed to soar and weep under Perlman's baton. The concert resulted in a long standing ovation with many cries of “Bravo!” Their adulation for Perlman and his love for and pride in them was obvious as he beckoned the audience into even more applause for his students.

Itzhak Perlman conducting; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Watching Perlman ascend the podium was a poetic experience. He exits the scooter, forcefully moves himself up the short flight with his crutches, pulls himself forrward to the music stand, and then he becomes the music. His large yet incredibly deft and gentle hands, the leonine head bending and turning-the incredible sounds emerging to his leadership- Itzhak Perlman is a study in transcendence: we are not our bodies; we are in them and we can direct what comes through them.

For more information about and tickets to their great programs, go to the Harris website,

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