Violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman just turned 74, but he hasn’t slowed down his busy performance schedule, which now includes tours through April 2020. Accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva, Perlman will perform at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center on the Cal State Northridge campus to open its 2019-2020 season on Sept. 19.
“I’m doing the usual program that I do. I’m going to do some Beethoven and some Franck and some Dvorák, stuff that I enjoy playing and listening to,” Perlman told the Journal. “It’s going to be fun.” Fans also can expect to hear John Williams’ theme from “Schindler’s List.” “I always do that,” Perlman said.
The recital also launches a program called Violins of Hope. A Los Angeles County-wide collaboration between four symphonic orchestras, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Soraya, it celebrates a collection of more than 60 instruments rescued from the Holocaust and restored in Israel by Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom in their shop in Tel Aviv. Niv Ashkenazi, a former student of Perlman’s who holds the only violin from the collection in North America, will tour 40-50 public and private schools as part of a yearlong arts education program. The instruments will come to Los Angeles for the first time in March.
“It’s a wonderful project,” said Perlman, who is seen visiting the Weinsteins’ shop in the 2018 documentary “Itzhak.” “Amnon showed me a whole bunch of these incredible instruments that have so much history behind them. These violins, more than most, are powerful examples of perseverance. They once represented survival for their owners and they symbolize the same to us today.”
Perlman’s personal instrument is a priceless 1714 Stradivarius that he’ll play on the tour, which also will include California performances in Palm Desert on Jan. 20 and Santa Barbara the following evening. He plans to see his son, one of his five children, while he’s in Los Angeles and hopes to visit some Napa wineries, as he has a Sept. 15 concert in Rohnert Park in Sonoma County.
“Perlman’s biggest issue with travel has to do with mobility and the lack of accommodation for people with disabilities, as he contracted polio as a boy and uses a wheelchair.“
He also loves to stop in at the Museum of Contemporary Art whenever he plays Disney Hall, though it’s not always possible “when you’re busy with rehearsals and you’re trying to rest and relax and prepare for the concert,” Perlman said. He stays healthy on the road by taking jet lag into account. “You have to know what your body reacts to and whether you’re going to be able to go to sleep right away. You have to figure it out and adjust.”
Although Perlman keeps kosher at home in New York, “on the road it’s more difficult. I try to keep away from things that are obviously not kosher,” he said. When he has a concert on Saturday night, he flies in before Shabbat begins. He never performs on Friday night.
But Perlman’s biggest issue with travel has to do with mobility and the lack of accommodation for people with disabilities, as he contracted polio as a boy and uses a wheelchair. “Travel is hard for anybody, but for somebody like myself who has a problem with walking, it’s even more difficult,” he said. “The way the airplanes are designed, the facilities are made for someone maybe 4-foot-9 and 100 pounds. It’s ridiculous. The airlines could make life for people with disabilities so much easier if they were to design bathrooms that were a little bigger, but it would take an extra seat away. It’s very unfair and very unpleasant. You just sit there and hope you don’t have to go.”
Nevertheless, Perlman takes the long flight to Israel, where he was born pre-statehood in 1945, a few times a year. “I’m going for a concert sometime in October. Zubin Mehta is leaving the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and it’s one of the last concerts that he will conduct,” he said.
Perlman will be home in New York for the High Holy Days “with the mishpachah” — a large clan that includes a dozen grandchildren. He and Toby, his wife of 52 years, are “holding at 12, but I don’t think we’re finished yet,” he said.
The couple recently celebrated the 25th year of their Perlman Music Program with a gala and concert. Toby started it to foster young musical talent as a summer program. “But now we have things going on all year, in New York and Florida and Israel,” Perlman noted. He often teaches classes at the Juilliard School in Manhattan, and for those who can’t take advantage of that, he offers his violin expertise through online tutorials at MasterClass.com.
Perlman has reached the heights of achievement as a musician, educator and humanitarian, with 16 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, four Emmy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, the Medal of Liberty, the Kennedy Center Honor and Israel’s 2016 Genesis Prize to his credit.
But there is one accomplishment that eludes him: eating without gaining weight. “My problem is I love food. Chicken noodle soup, matzo ball soup, stuff my mother used to make when I was growing up. Chinese food, Korean food, Indian food — I like everything,” he said, laughing. “Maybe I should start Jewish weight watchers: How to lose weight and still have matzo ball soup.”
Otherwise, he has no complaints. “The important thing in life is to be happy with what you’re doing. I’m very happy with what I do,” Perlman said. “A growing family and music — what can be better?”
Itzhak Perlman performs at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center at Cal State Northridge at 7 p.m. Sept. 19.