Itzhak Perlman thrills crowd at Florida Orchestra gala
ST. PETERSBURG -- Itzhak Perlman wowed a packed Mahaffey Theater crowd with sweet renderings of film scores, delivered as only he can for a variety of reasons. Appreciative ticket holders at the Florida Orchestra's annual gala stood when the 71-year-old violinist took the stage in a motorized wheelchair, then used two canes to climb to the soloist's platform near conductor Michael Francis.
Perlman, who has been called "fiddler to the world" because of his fame and his list of prestigious musical and civic honors, played pieces of film scores on the same 1714 Stradivarius he has been using for 30 years.
Some of the tunes packed sentimental import, starting with the first one, the theme from Casabanca. Others were clever or interesting, such as composer John Williams' themes from Sabrina and Far and Away, the latter an otherwise forgettable movie starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
"I heard there was a review headlined 'Far and no way,'" Perlman joked while bantering with Francis, something they did between all the numbers. "Or was that just fake news or something?"
It was a running variety show atmosphere between these two, some of it apparently spontaneous. For example, when Francis inadvertently identified the composer of the Out of Africa score as John Williams (it was John Barry), Perlman wouldn't let him forget it.
"You said it eloquently but you were wrong," Perlman said.
He then played what was (for me at least) the most exquisite piece of the evening, that magnificently sad Out of Africa theme. Perlman might or might not be the violinist he has been for decades – I'll leave that determination to others – but he invites the mind down the rabbit hole of every note, finding new depths and new heights in songs you thought you knew.
Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945, and contracted polio at age 4. In 1958 he walked on crutches ontio The Ed Sullivan Show, where he played a Mendelssohn violin concerto. The boy was such a hit, Sullivan invited him back the same year, then again in October 1964, before a crowd that erupted in pandemonium on the same show for the Rolling Stones.
He has since performed for several presidents and the queen of England and conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and the Israeli Philharmonic. He has won 15 Grammy and four Emmy awards. Perlman and his wife, Toby, run an academy for musicians ages 9 to 16, the Perlman Music Program, which has a winter residency in Sarasota. The program selects students with top-tier potential, then shepherds their training for years regardless of ability to pay.
He closed his set, and the concert, with John Williams' Theme from Schindler's List. Perlman played the score in the film, with director Stephen Spielberg listening in the studio.
"No matter where I go in the world, this is the piece people want me to play," he said. "I don't care if we're talking about South America, Japan or China."