Itzhak Perlman 1945– Polio-surviving classical violinist

Itzhak 6

Itzhak Perlman (Hebrew: יצחק פרלמן‎; born 31 August 1945) is an Israeli-American violinist, conductor, and music teacher. Over the course of his career, Perlman has performed worldwide, and throughout the United States, in venues that have included a State Dinner at the White Househonoring Queen Elizabeth II, and a Presidential Inauguration, and he has conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Westchester Philharmonic. In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Early life

Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945, then British Mandate of Palestine, now Israel. His parents, Chaim and Shoshana Perlman, were natives of Poland and had independently immigrated to Palestine in the mid-1930s before they met and later married.

Perlman first became interested in the violin after hearing a classical music performance on the radio. At the age of three, he was denied admission to the Shulamit Conservatory for being too small to hold a violin.[1] He instead taught himself how to play the instrument using a toy fiddle until he was old enough to study with Rivka Goldgart at the Shulamit Conservatory and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, where he gave his first recital at age 10, before moving to the United States to study at the Juilliard School with the violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian and his assistant Dorothy DeLay.

Perlman meets NixonPerlman 13 playing Medolsen

Perlman contracted polio at age four and has walked using leg braces and crutches since then. As of 2018, he uses crutches or an electric Amigo scooter for mobility  and plays the violin while seated.



Perlman appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1958, and again in 1964, on the same show with the Rolling Stones. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and won the Leventritt Competition in 1964. Soon afterward, he began to tour widely. In addition to an extensive recording and performance career, he has continued to make guest appearances on American television shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street as well as playing at a number of functions at the White House.

Although he has never been billed or marketed as a singer, he sang the role of “Un carceriere” (“a jailer”) on a 1981 EMI recording of Puccini’s “Tosca” that featured Renata ScottoPlácido Domingo, and Renato Bruson, with James Levine conducting. He had earlier sung the role in an excerpt from the opera on a 1980 Pension Fund Benefit Concert telecast as part of the Live from Lincoln Center series with Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Zubin Mehtaconducting the New York Philharmonic.

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On 5 July 1986, he performed on the New York Philharmonic‘s tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised live on ABC Television in the United States. The orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performed in Central Park.

In 1987, he joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) for their concerts in Warsaw and Budapest as well as other cities in Eastern bloc countries. He toured with the IPO in the spring of 1990 for its first-ever performance in the Soviet Union, with concerts in Moscow and Leningrad, and toured with the IPO again in 1994, performing in China and India.

In 2015 on a classical music program entitled The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center produced by WQXR in New York City, it was revealed that Perlman performed the uncredited violin solo on the 1989 Billy Joel song The Downeaster Alexa.

While primarily a solo artist, Perlman has performed with a number of other musicians, including Yo-Yo MaPinchas ZukermanJessye NormanIsaac Stern, and Yuri Temirkanov at the 150th anniversary celebration of Tchaikovsky in Leningrad in December 1990. He has also performed and recorded with his friend and fellow Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman on numerous occasions over the years.

As well as playing and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and in addition, klezmer. Perlman has been a soloist for a number of film scores such as the theme of the 1993 film Schindler’s List by John Williams, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. More recently, he was the violin soloist for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Perlman played selections from the musical scores of the movies nominated for “Best Original Score” at the 73rd Academy Awards with Yo-Yo Ma and at the 78th Academy Awards.[citation needed]

Notable performances

Perlman at the White House in 2007

Perlman played at the state dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 May 2007, in the East Room at the White House.

He performed John Williams‘s “Air and Simple Gifts” at the 2009 inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama along with Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet). While the quartet did play live, the music played simultaneously over speakers and on television was a recording made two days prior due to concerns over the cold weather damaging the instruments. Perlman was quoted as saying: “It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way.”

He made an appearance in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 to introduce the segment Pines of Rome along with Steve Martin.


In 1975, Perlman accepted a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. In 2003, Mr. Perlman was named the holder of the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at the Juilliard School, succeeding his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. He also currently teaches students one-on-one at the Perlman Music Program on Long Island, NY, rarely holding master classes.

The Perlman Music Program[edit]

The Perlman music program, founded in 1995 by Toby Perlman and Suki Sandler, started as a summer camp for exceptional string musicians between the ages of 11 and 18.[10] Over time, it expanded to a year-long program. Students have the chance to have Itzhak Perlman himself coach them before they play at venues such as the Sutton Place Synagogue and public schools.[11] By introducing students to each other and requiring them to practice together, the program strives to have musicians who would otherwise practice alone and develop a network of friends and colleagues. Rather than remain isolated, participants in the program find an area where they belong.


At the beginning of the new millennium, Perlman began to conduct. He took the post of principal guest conductor at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He served as music advisor to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra from 2002 to 2004. In November 2007, the Westchester Philharmonic announced the appointment of Perlman as artistic director and principal conductor. His first concert in these roles was on 11 October 2008, in an all-Beethoven program featuring pianist Leon Fleisher performing the Emperor Concerto.


Perlman plays the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhin and considered one of the finest violins made during Stradivari’s “golden period.” Perlman also plays the Guarneri del Gesu 1743 ‘Sauret’ and the Carlo Bergonzi 1740 ‘ex-Kreisler’.

Personal life

Perlman resides in New York City with his wife, Toby, also a classically trained violinist. They have five children: Noah, Navah, Leora, Rami, and Ariella. Perlman is a distant cousin of Canadian comic and TV personality Howie Mandel.


Trailer for Feature Film

On Playing Violin for Schindlers List

Playing Theme Schindlers List by John Williams


Few would deny that Itzhak Perlman speaks most eloquently through his violin, from which he coaxes some of the most golden sounds ever to emerge from that instrument.

 Perlman Talks Access 2

article by 
HEDY WEISS on January 6, 2016 | Chicago Sun-Times
But on Wednesday at the 
Harris Theater for Music and Dance, in a free lunchtime program presented in partnership with Access Living (the Chicago non-profit devoted to providing practical help and advocacy for those with disabilities), the musician, who contracted polio at the age of four, spoke eloquently – and with characteristic humor – about the other crucial aspect of his life.

Zipping on stage in a sleek electric Amigo scooter, the now 70-year-old Perlman, who looks as fit as a fiddle, chatted with Marca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living. The occasion was the culminating day in the celebration of ADA 25 Chicago – part of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On Wednesday evening Perlman was to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in an all-Tchaikovsky program at the Harris, which, coincidentally, has just installed welcome new railings in its seating area, installed two large, high-speed elevators, and opened up its lobby area for greater flow.

Perlman, the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning musician who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House this past November (where he was in the company of friends Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, as well as “the amazing Willie Mays and a woman who worked for NASA long before many women did that”), laughingly recalled that when he went to the White House under a different administration he was given a giant KitKat bar. Then he got down to more serious matters, talking about how his own attitudes about his disability have evolved almost as dramatically as the attitudes of the wider public.

“I didn’t like it when, early on in my career, the media invariably mentioned how I came on stage using crutches and played sitting down,” he confessed. “I wanted to be judged as a musician, to know if I was worthwhile as an artist. And eventually the stories stopped mentioning that. But once I was established I came full circle. I had no problem that people mentioned it. I just didn’t want the two things to be mixed up.”

Perlman quipped that throughout his early years in Israel his parents’ only concern (and they were not musicians), was that he practiced.

“So I filled the air with notes, and invented easy exercises to look busy and make them happy,” he said, adding that he did practice three hours a day. He also recalled he was chosen to be the goalie in neighborhood soccer games played in narrow streets “because my crutches were a good barrier.”

Perlman’s disability only became an issue when, at 13, he was invited to the U.S. to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, “that variety hour in which monkeys and ballet dancers shared the stage.” He soon entered the Juilliard School where he said he never felt stigmatized by his classmates, but questions about travel, and about playing concerts from a chair (“even though only solo violinists stand, while all those in orchestras and chamber groups sit, just like me”) did begin to arise.

“The thing is, disability is not just one thing,” said Perlman. “I might not be able to move my legs, but I can move my brain. To a large extent it’s a matter of attitude. Back in the 1990s, in a ‘Sesame Street’ scene I did, a little girl violinist ran easily up the stairs to the stage, but had trouble playing the violin, while the steps were the curse of the world for me, but the violin was easy.”

Although “accessibility” has improved greatly in recent decades, Perlman said he still faces major roadblocks: Wranglinbg for permission to use his scooter in order to get to his seat on a plane; entering restaurants (where he sometimes has to use the kitchen entrance); using garbage elevators in hotels, and having to deal with badly planned “so-called accessible bathtubs” and super-high beds.”

“If designers would just get into a wheelchair and ride around a building many of the problems would be solved,” said Perlman.


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