One of the most famous classical musicians alive, 68-year-old Itzhak Perlman exudes charm like a rambunctious child in his sheer lack of inhibition and persona. He is unabashedly himself, a trait that endears him to people of all ages and transforms a Wednesday night into a weekend party as occurred on Sept. 25, 2013 at Roy Thomson Hall.
Playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Perlman might have closed the show, playing the part of dessert in a lavish three-course dinner, but it was he who everyone was waiting for. Displaying a virtuosity so grand, the average viewer could be forgiven for forgetting there was an orchestra behind him, Perlman’s bow danced across the strings with grace and agility one second before digging deep in a gritty, roughly emotional way the next.
Of course, Joaquin Valdepeñas opened the night with his gentle, yet tenacious, take on Benjamin Britten’s Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, a piece that brought to mind a warship traveling through waters with unseen danger all around. As Valdepeñas’s fingers fluttered over the keys, the notes rose out of his instrument in the most pure conjunction with the orchestra. The clarinet is such an instrument that produces a buttery smooth sound and, in the right hands, is able to coat the timbre of the ensemble like a a gauzy film without ever seeming to float on top. On Sept. 25, 2013, Valdepeñas was the one to retain a distinctly melancholy feeling as the solo, yet played gracefully enough to brightly intone over the sombre tone of the orchestra.
The piece that followed thereafter, Walton William’s, er, long-written Symphony No. 1 in B Flat Major, had the kind of fiery energy and passion that the ordinary person longs to exert. Having written it during the midst of a couple of tumultuous love affairs, Walton injected every bit of extremeness he could possibly think of into his symphony’s four movements.
Alternating between seething first movement loaded with pent-up frustration to the fugal fourth, echoing resignedness and acceptance, Walton’s symphony evoked emotions on a grand scale, the type of which one longs to release but is afraid to.
But unless Mozart himself were to be resurrected to walk onto the stage at Roy Thomson Hall, no player could detract from Perlman. Taking his place at his post with Oundjian following behind, cradling Perlman’s violin, Itzhak took his time making his way to his chair, readily acknowledging the proudly clapping audience for a good while longer than most musicians.
And once his bow touched the screen? Well, it doesn’t matter what any scientist authors, but magic took place. Perlman’s touch is so intrinsically timed, so tuned into the era-appropriateness of the piece, that he made Tchaikovksy’s once-unplayable concerto seem as easy to learn as Twinkle, Twinkle. And that is a mark of a great artist, to take an inherently complex piece filled with rapidly changing accidentals and emotional depths and transform it into a piece so effortless, listeners were granted a rare look inside the machinations of the mind of a soon-to-be legend.
At the end, the symphony crowd, usually so taciturn and reticent, erupted into the kind of long-lasting cheers and applause reserved only to the truly respected and adored. Itzhak Perlman is so revered for that exact reason: he makes absolutely no attempt at being someone else, instead content to live his life exactly as how it was dealt out. There is no fakery, no persona, no store-bought charm- just a real man, doing what he loves.
And with the kind of wistfulness that pervades the voice of someone who’s realized too late what they were privy to, Perlman’s performance is the special night that forms the basis for grandchildren’s stories.