From our July 2014 issue, husband-and-wife team Itzhak and Toby Perlman spoke about the beginnings of the Perlman Music Program, in light of its 20th anniversary.

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Itzhak and Toby Perlman © Patrick McMullan Photography

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This was published in the July 2014 issue of The Strad

Itzhak Perlman

I first met Toby at the Meadowmount summer music programme in upstate New York. They had student concerts there, and after I played in one she came backstage and asked me to marry her. I was 17 and I said, ‘Er ah…’ But we became very good friends. She’s a violinist and studied with the same teachers I did — Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay. We both appreciated the grand tradition of violin playing by people like Kreisler and Heifetz, so we listened to a lot of recordings together. It was a very natural thing. 

The idea for the Perlman Music Program (PMP) came from the summer programme where we met. I can’t believe it’s already 20 years since Toby came up with the idea of nurturing and teaching young talented string players. We work well as a team there. Sometimes, when you’ve been married for such a long time, you think so alike that you don’t have to say anything: you just have to look at each other.

The PMP is Toby’s baby. At the beginning, she asked me to coach a couple of kids there because I had some teaching experience. Over time I became deeply involved in teaching as well as conducting the orchestra. Toby organises everything. She has a great imagination and educationally she’s quite amazing. She knows who is going to be a promising musician, even if they are still young and don’t yet sound right. You only have to talk to her for five minutes to hear the amazing energy that she has. She’s been that way for the whole 48 years we’ve been married.

Our biggest success is our family. Our five children still speak to each other. That’s success, don’t you think? When we’re at home, we spend our free time with them and our grandchildren, if their schedule allows. Otherwise we go to the movies, and we’re big baseball fans. These days in New York that’s been difficult: our team, the Mets, loses all the time. When I asked our oldest son, ‘Who are you rooting for?’ He said, ‘Nobody: it’s too painful.’

Toby is the only critic that I trust, because she is very tough. I don’t expect her to make me feel good. If I do a concert and there is something that she doesn’t like, she’ll say, ‘It was OK, but…’ When she says that it was good, I trust her. I am extremely lucky to have such a partner in life, emotionally and artistically, because she’s my friend in addition to everything else.

Toby Perlman

My husband and I met in 1963 at a summer course run by Galamian. Itzhak played Ravel’s Tzigane in a concert and I went backstage and asked him to marry me. We were children really: he was 17, I was 20. We discovered that we lived in the same neighbourhood and we were both at Juilliard, and we became close friends. Now I couldn’t live without him or his sound. He has a truly unusual level of integrity and honesty. If we needed to send a capsule saying ‘Human Being’ into space as an example for the future, we could put him in it. It doesn’t mean he’s easy to live with. In that sense he’s just a regular man — very difficult.

We have a lot in common. During the war, Itzhak’s parents fled from Poland to Palestine, which then became Israel. My parents were born in America, but their parents were born in Poland. We have never had a disagreement pertaining to our five children, and I think that is because we have very different yet similar backgrounds. Shared values are a good thing when you’re raising a family.

We lead a peculiar life. One night I’ll be preparing dinner for 15 people at home, the next we’ll be dining with the Queen of England. Itzhak has played more this season than in any I can remember. He loves it, but the travel is almost defeating him. At the airport yesterday, one of the security guys said to him, ‘Well, your scooter is heavy, but we’ve decided not to charge you.’ The scooter is his legs!

Usually we work well together. It wasn’t so good today when I was unloading the groceries and he decided to leave me to it. But in terms of work, we’re a good team. When the PMP started, he didn’t want any part of it, but now he is completely immersed. It has made him open, flexible, and a better violinist. The kids challenge him. They’ll say, ‘Urgh, Mr P., that fingering?’ He has to give them a good reason, and that makes him think. His playing was OK before — sometimes great. But now he simply captivates his audiences.

His gift is bigger than he is. He’s been told how good he is, but he has no idea. There are few musicians he respects. If those people say, ‘That was good,’ it has a great deal of meaning for him. I’m critical, but I’ll praise him too. I’ll say, ‘That was just so beautiful.’ And he’ll look at me as though I’m out of my mind and say, ‘Really?’


This was published in the July 2014 issue of The Strad

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