When in conversation about making music, Itzhak Perlman is a cross between a laid-back pedagogue, a magician reluctantly giving away secrets and a world-class chef taking you on a brief tour of his kitchen.
Being on the receiving end of the beloved 67-year-old violinist’s often jovial insights about composers, performance and the difference between what a player and audience needs to know about a concert is a privilege, and indeed a lot of laughs.
Perlman appears in recital with pianist Rohan De Silva on Tuesday at Benaroya Hall. The program offers works by Beethoven, Franck and Tartini, plus Perlman’s usual post-intermission surprises — short pieces pulled from a pile of sheet music he famously shuffles through on stage, seeing what catches his fancy. It’s a delightful, touching ritual.
Since an interview a year ago before conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Perlman has been staying the course in his busy life and career. He is touring (“I’m in L.A., on one of my West Coast extravaganzas,” he says), and teaching at the Juilliard School as well as at the 19-year-old Perlman Music Program for young string musicians.
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Perlman released a CD (“Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul”) of what he calls “Jewish soul music” last September, in collaboration with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.
“Helfgot,” he says, “is an amazing singer. I had to do something with this guy.”
Perlman still enjoys providing a broader musical repertoire than virtuosos typically enjoy. But for now he has set that aside and is taking three sonatas he hasn’t performed for a while to different cities.
Those include Beethoven’s 1797-98 Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 1 in D major, Franck’s 1886 Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, and Tartini’s 1745 Sonata in G minor for Violin and Continuo (“Devil’s Trill”).
“The Beethoven has a beautiful set of variations in the second movement, a beautiful — happy, happy — last movement, and a very dramatic first movement,” says Perlman.
“It’s one of those early, wonderful Beethoven pieces much more difficult than they seem. Some students play these pieces and they’re always problematic because the music seems straightforward. But there’s nothing straightforward about Beethoven. It only should sound that way.
“To make music simple is not so simple. The audience should only enjoy. I always say to my students, don’t let the audience know what you’re doing. Because the minute people hear what you’re doing, it becomes affected and misses.”
Perlman says the Franck composition “is one of the jewels in the crown of violin sonata repertoire. Franck had a good day when he wrote that piece. It’s challenging for both the violinist and pianist. It’s extremely romantic, incredibly passionate, played often so you want to make sure it always sounds fresh. That’s my challenge.”
How does he meet that challenge?
“Oh, God. Let’s see. You concentrate musically on what the piece says. It’s the difference between playing like you played it yesterday and playing what’s in the music. There’s a tendency, if you play something over and over, to do it like you always do it. I find, as I’m getting older, that’s not the thing to do.”
Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” was so named because its composer based it on a dream in which Satan played a violin with consummate skill.
“The devil started to trill,” says Perlman. “That’s how the story goes. This particular version is an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler. It has just a few, slightly different harmonies. You could call it the Viennese ‘Devil’s Trill.’ ”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org