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The Sounds of Strings

Itzhak Perlman listens to more than just classical music. He says "anything wonderful" will do.


His emergence is the stuff of inspirational stories. Born in the then-emerging state of Israel in 1945, he lost the use of his legs to polio at the age of 4. Focusing his energies on the violin, he was performing with the Israel Broadcasting Company by the time he was 10. At 13, he was on the Ed Sullivan Show playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" in front of a national television audience. At 19, he won the prestigious Leventritt Competition and launched an international performing career of historic brilliance.

At the summit of his virtuosity, Perlman finds that audiences want to hear him play works commensurate with his gifts. "It does happen that I play something other than the obvious," he says — "Tschaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn — but it is less usual."

"I will be playing the Tschaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Richmond Orchestra; I hope well," Perlman says. "It is a old warhorse that I have played for many years, very festive and very important."

Over a Grammy-winning, 15-year recording career, Perlman has occasionally strayed from the monumental works of recognized genius to explore other music, including jazz and klezmer. His exquisite solos were the heart of the Academy-Award-nominated soundtrack for "Schindler's List." His listening extends beyond classical to include "anything wonderful," he says. He is particularly fond of the pop music of his youth. "From the '50s and '60s up to the Beatles, those are my kind of oldies," Perlman says.

Something wonderful happens in performance when there is a connection between the players and the listeners. "Audiences have a good nose," Perlman says. "They can sense when things go well. If the audience is riveted, there is an electricity that inspires."

As a soloist he is accustomed to playing with regional orchestras. "For me, the most important thing is that everyone tries to do their best; there is nothing else I can ask," Perlman says. "Ability is important, but if you are really focused, if it is really important, it always produces even better than I expected."

"When it comes to orchestras, it is easy to have passengers in the string section — players who just join in the overall sound. I want everybody to be the driver, the less passengers the better."

Of the other half of the equation, the local audience for whom he has performed so many times, Perlman jokes, "They are the best Richmond audience in the world." As in almost everything he says, a warm smile is clearly audible. S

Itzhak Perlman plays the Carpenter Center, 600 E. Grace St., May 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $60.50-$85 and can be purchased at or by calling 225-9000.

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