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Who is Itzhak Perlman?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Itzhak Perlman is considered one of the most gifted violinists in the world, a person with extraordinary talent who has persevered in spite of life-altering limitations. Born in Tel Aviv, Palestine in 1945, Perlman contracted the life threatening polio virus at the age of four. Though he eventually learned to walk with crutches, the virus sadly and permanently damaged his legs, and to this day, he performs seated as a soloist, which is unusual. Nevertheless, Perlman was already beginning to play the violin, which in past interviews he has stated he was strongly encouraged to play in order to improve mobility in his fingers after his bout with polio.

This encouragement clearly worked, on what was probably a natural talent in any case. After first studying at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, he came to the United States, and by age 13, he’d had his first nationally televised performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. He continued studying at the New York-based Julliard School of Music, and in 1964, Itzhak Perlman won the highly competitive Levintritt Competition. This award made him internationally noticed and he began what has been a nonstop career of performance in orchestras throughout the world.

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The career of Itzhak Perlman can be said to have had both highlights and higher lights. He seems continually to build on past successes, and continues to win new fans, multiple awards, and critical acclaim. Some of his most notable career moves include joining the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987. The orchestra toured, for the first time, several Eastern bloc countries, culminating with a performance in the Soviet Union in 1990. Perlman later went back to the Soviet Union in the same year to participate in a concert, which honored the birth of Tchaikovsky, and performed with musicians that certainly are of his caliber, such as Yo-Yo Ma and Jessye Norman.

Recordings of the work of Itzhak Perlman abound and have garnered him several Emmys and numerous Grammys. Perlman has also been honored with several prestigious awards from the United States. In 1986, Ronald Reagan gifted Perlman with the Medal of Freedom, and in 2000 Perlman earned the National Medal of Arts. Perlman has also been known for his collaborative efforts with some of today’s most noted film composers, such as John Williams. For Williams, Perlman recorded the hauntingly beautiful violin solos for the film Schindler’s List. More recently, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma had featured solo performances on the soundtrack of Memoirs of a Geisha.

As one of the world’s best violinists, it’s fitting that Itzhak Perlman performs on two of the world’s best violins: a 1714 Stradivarius and a Sauret Guarneri del Gesu made around 1740. However it would be wrong to label this musician as only a violinist. He’s also a charming speaker who has delighted guests with his fine sense of humor in guest appearances on television and in his hosting of the popular PBS program The Three Tenors. He’s dedicated in his support of public television, and frequently appears at pledge drives of the major PBS networks to stir people into making donations.

In recent years, Perlman has begun to focus on conducting, and was appointed the Westchester Philharmonic principle conductor in 2007. He also continues his goal of delighting and educating people with music and holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair at Julliard. Itzhak Perlman currently resides with his wife Toby, in New York, and he has four children.

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