For most people, the term “virtuoso” applies only in the realm of hyperbole. But for Itzhak Perlman, the term is simply his life.
The classical violinist and conductor is one of the few superstars of the genre, an artist who has hobnobbed with everyone from queens and presidents to David Letterman and “Sesame Street” Muppets. And since his first nationally televised appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at age 13, the now-68-year-old performer has been a household name and ambassador for classical music the world over.
Perlman makes his first-ever stop in Modesto for a sold-out performance at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday night. Bringing him to town was a coup for the performing arts center, and the enthusiasm for the event has been overwhelming.
Gallo Center Chief Executive Officer Lynn Dickerson said the concert sold out a few weeks after tickets went on sale in June. There’s now a waiting list of hundreds clamoring for a chance to see Perlman perform in person.
“Obviously, (bringing in Perlman) is a feather in our cap,” Dickerson said. “To those naysayers who say we only bring has-beens and old rock ’n’ rollers one step away from the grave – or whatever the detractors say – this gives us a lot of cache in the performing-arts world. It’s a first-class act. It’s an artist you don’t get an opportunity to see every day. He doesn’t tour that much. You can’t say ‘Oh, I’ll just see him next month in San Francisco.’ It’s a big deal for Modesto, the Gallo Center and our community.”
The Israeli-born artist’s reputation outside of the classical world has put him in the national spotlight for decades. He played at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, has won 15 Grammys and four Emmys, has performed for Queen Elizabeth II and played the searing violin solos in the score to Steve Spielberg’s Oscar-winning picture “Schindler’s List.”
His artistry, along with his famed 1714 Soil Stradivarius violin, has garnered fans worldwide. But it is also joy for performing and infectious desire to educate that have made him such a powerful proponent for classical music over the years. He and wife Toby Perlman, also a professional violinist, founded the Perlman Music Foundation in 1993 to train exceptional young string players. And over the years, he has made numerous appearances on PBS and other national programs to share his love of music.
On Charlie Rose’s show in 2010, Perlman discussed his expressive and emotional way of performing. “I like to talk to music. That is the way I teach. I say, after a while when you know how to play an instrument, then you should forget playing the instrument,” he said. “It’s now time to talk to music, to talk the phrases. Sometimes I tell my students to read a paragraph. In the paragraph there are certain words, like, say, ‘extraordinary.’ Are you going to say just ‘extraordinary,’ or will you have an inflection? Will you say ‘ extraordinary’?” When you hear a phrase (of music) that you feel is really meaningful, you can’t just play it, you have to speak it.”
Dickerson said reaction since the announcement of the show has been enormously enthusiastic. Still, she confessed to being a little nervous about how it would be received. “If I had realized it would be that popular, I wouldn’t have been so nervous about booking the show,” Dickerson joked. “This is not a town that supports classical music in a big way. Yes, there’s a small and dedicated audience that supports classical music, but support on this level pleasantly surprised me.”
Landing the performance also was a gamble. Perlman’s booking fee was significantly higher – some 40 to 50 percent more – than an average show, so Dickerson sought help from the center’s namesake. Gallo Center President Marie Gallo and her family helped to sponsor the show to ensure ticket prices remained more reasonable. Doctors Medical Center helped underwrite the show as well.
“It’s affirming that the community responded so positively and bought tickets so quickly,” Dickerson said. “I think it’ll be a wonderful event in our community. We know the performance will be great. It will be a red-letter day in Modesto on Jan. 18.”