Beloved violinist Itzhak Perlman, a frequent visitor to Benaroya Hall both in recital and as a guest conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, returns Thursday and Friday (Jan. 15-16) to perform Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, and conduct Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Eroica”).
Perlman is in the midst of career and personal milestones. He turns 70 this year, and his celebrated 1995 “In the Fiddler’s House” project, an international survey of klezmer music, turns 20. (Perlman will mark the occasion with a Carnegie Hall concert in March.)
The Perlman Music Program, where Perlman spends part of every year as a full-time teacher, recently turned 20 and is going strong. Next fall, he will release a new album — a collaboration with pianist Emanuel Ax — his first in three years.
Q: Let’s start with your thoughts about the music you’ll be performing or conducting at Benaroya.
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A: The Bach violin concerto is one of the standard Bach works. It’s beautiful. I always find Bach to be an expression of a love of life. There’s an enthusiasm that’s absolutely contagious. In this particular concerto, there is a feel of total satisfaction in the music he wrote. For me, it’s just a great pleasure to do anything by Bach.
Brahms is one of my all-time favorite composers. This overture has incredible drama. Brahms’ main hero was Beethoven, so there’s a lot of stuff in Brahms that reminds one of Beethoven when it comes to drama and rhythm. Brahms is, for me, emotionally an amazing composer. I’m always moved by anything of his.
As far as Beethoven’s “Eroica,” well, what can you say? There are no words to describe it. The drama of rhythm is something Beethoven is always associated with. There’s nothing more palpable. This symphony has a wonderful combination of incredible melodies and rhythmic tension from the first chord. When it comes to a Classical composer, which Beethoven sort of is, the important thing is to pay attention to the rhythmic tension. Beethoven gives you profound material in “Eroica.” He goes from seriousness to the lighthearted, which he also does in his late quartets, his most profound work.
Q: You’ve talked before about the experience of conducting, how it broadens the repertoire you get to be involved with and how you learn to bring a unique feel and color to familiar music. How have you evolved as a conductor since you began doing it 20 years ago?
A: I’m evolving all the time, whether as a violinist or a teacher or conductor. I’m a little more aware of what I can and cannot do to relate my feeling about music to musicians. What I can say with great certainty is that my ability to listen has improved. I can hear better what’s going on musically. A lot of stuff involved in teaching, performing and conducting is listening and having real judgment as to what you sound like, because a lot of it is physical, especially when you play. You’re involved physically with the instrument, so your perception of what you sound like might not be as accurate as you would like. It’s the same thing with teaching, how well the teacher can listen. If you conduct something like the “Eroica” with a very good orchestra, the trick is to feel what the music is all about and relate that to the musicians.
Q: You recently signed with the Harry Walker Agency for speaking engagements.
A: That’s just for fun, to go onstage and talk a little about my life and what makes me tick where music is concerned. I have a good time. Whenever I play recitals, the part where I talk about music and my experiences of music, audiences always like it. They feel more involved with an artist who talks to them. It’s a nice experience for me as well.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org