Itzhak Perlman, who has overcome disability, and his friend Pinchas Zukerman have followed similar paths to stardom
It was just a couple of months ago that the Houston Symphony Orchestra was due to welcome its artistic partner Itzhak Perlman for a concert. But on arrival in the Texan metropolis, the great violinist tested positive for Covid.
The Houston Chronicle indulged in a bit of clever wordplay, deploying an American colloquialism for substitute that fitted neatly with the stand-in virtuoso’s name — Pinchas pinch-hits for Perlman.
It was the maestro’s great friend and fellow Israeli-American Pinchas Zukerman who took over as conductor and soloist.
They were born three years apart — the younger man, Zukerman, turns 74 today — and followed the same path to stardom: conservatory in Tel Aviv; Juilliard School in New York. They even won the same international violin competition.
They’re both Grammy winners (though Perlman has 15 to Zukerman’s two), and they have released albums together, Perlman on the violin, Zukerman playing the viola. Like Perlman, Zukerman is renowned as an orchestral director too. Reviewing his 100th appearance with the New York Philharmonic in 2012, the New York Times quoted words Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach had used to describe a performance by his father: “He played the violin purely and with a penetrating tone and thus kept the orchestra in top form.”
It also wrote of the spirit and range of the players when the maestro put away his violin and took out his baton.
The Chronicle’s review of the Houston concert referenced the crisp, deeply lyrical tone of his playing in a piece by Mozart in which he seemed much more invested in honouring the melodies than basking in personal glory. It noted his attention to detail as conductor.
Itzhak Perlman had to overcome disability to make his way in music. He was only four when he contracted polio, and he has used crutches ever since. In a radio interview some years ago, he said he only walks on stage when he’s playing with an orchestra. For recitals, he uses a mobility scooter.
“I can’t walk very well,” he told NPR in America, “but I’m not on stage to do walking. I’m on the stage to play.”
There can be problems at older venues where the performance space is only accessible through steps or stairs. “I know all the garbage elevators,” he told the programme host.
He performs seated, but as he points out, most violinists make their music sitting down. He reckons most soloists would much prefer to sit.
The 15 Grammys are evidence of his status as the supreme virtuoso of the violin.
He has been a regular guest at the White House. In 2009, he took part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Two years previously, he had played at the state dinner held in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s visit of to the US.
He was only 13 when he debuted in front of a national television audience on the Ed Sullivan Show. Over the six decades since, he’s been a permanent fixture at the forefront of American cultural life. Pinchas Zukerman is not far behind him.
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