Arranging a concert program is like planning a dinner, says Itzhak
First comes an appetizer, then the main course, and finally
something to clear the palate.
By that yardstick, the violin virtuoso is
preparing a menu for The Soul of Jewish Music concert unlike anything else in
his 50-year career, featuring Perlman, famed Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot,
musical director Hankus Netsky, a klezmer band and an orchestra. Comedian Elon
Gold will introduce the program.
“There’ll be some good fiddlin, great
singing and a little Yiddish,”.Perlman promised. The show will debut April 10 in
Los Angeles, as the first stop in an anticipated national, and perhaps
About his collaboration with Helfgot, Perlman noted,
“I’m not exactly a stranger to playing the violin along some of the world’s
great voices, but I’ve never done it in a Jewish context.”
“When I was a
kid growing up in Israel, on Saturdays I always listened to the chazzonish
(cantorial) radio programs,” he reminisced.
“That was my Jewish comfort
A Perlman program is usually planned a year or so in advance, but
the Soul Music event came together in a few weeks, thanks mainly to the
obsessive enthusiasm of producer Dan Adler.
“Dan first contacted me about
this event less than two months ago,” Perlman recalled.
“We had no
concert hall, no advance publicity, but Dan said he would take care of all these
Perlman had heard Helfgot sing a year earlier and was stirred
by his voice. Now he presented the idea of a joint performance to the cantor,
who replied, “Why not?” Helfgot, alternately dubbed the “Jewish Domingo” or the
“Jewish Pavarotti” is, like Perlman, a Tel Aviv native and former child prodigy.
He is chief cantor at New York’s Park East Synagogue and in 2006 presented the
first cantorial solo concert in the then 123-year history of the New York
Netsky, a multi-instrumentalist, is the founder of
the Klezmer Conservatory Band and teaches jazz and contemporary improvisation at
the New England Conservatory.
He previously collaborated with Perlman in
the 1995 PBS special In the Fiddler’s House.
PERLMAN FIRST came to
America’s attention at 13 when he appeared on the old Ed Sullivan show, and he
cemented his reputation five years later in his Carnegie Hall debut.
his teens, he helped support his family by entertaining at fundraising dinners
for the United Jewish Appeal, Zionist Organization of America and Israel
Critics frequently comment on his rapport with audiences and
Perlman explained that “I am constantly stimulated
and amazed by the music and the different ways of interpreting it. The work
keeps me young.”
He also keeps switching roles. At 65, he triples as
violinist, conductor and teacher, giving one-on-one lessons to some 15 students
at The Juilliard School in New York.
Perlman estimates that he spends
half of his year on the road, playing in different cities and countries. He
enjoys the performances but hates the traveling.
A polio victim at four,
he requires crutches or a wheelchair, which means long body searches each time
he boards a plane.
“Sometimes the security checker will say, ‘Sorry, Mr
Perlman, we have to do this,’ but travelling is always a huge pain,” he
It’s equally challenging to find accessible hotel lodging for a man
with his disabilities.
Asked whether he didn’t have an assistant to scout
ahead, Perlman answered, “Yes, but in the end it’s up to me, I have to be the
Perlman descibes himself as a “traditional Jew,” who keeps a
kosher home, won’t perform on Friday nights, and, as the father of five and
grandfather of nine, usually has some 12 family members around the Shabbat
He shied away from talking about Israel’s domestic and
foreign problems, but noted, “I am an eternal optimist, I always say ‘Yihyeh
Tov’ or ‘It’ll get better.’” At the end of the interview, Perlman excused
himself to teach a lesson and then catch a plane to Texas.
He left behind
a video shot during rehearsal, in which Helfgot promises ticket buyers, “You’ll
be treated music that’s old, but new,” to which Perlman added, “and Jewish.”
Beneficiary of the concert is the Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice
Network, a national coalition, under the auspices of Bet Tzedek Legal Services,
to provide dignity and resources to survivors.