Starling-DeLay Day Two: A Conversation with Itzhak Perlman

May 30, 2007, 10:12 PM · NEW YORK - After teaching his master class at the second day of the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard, Itzhak Perlman stayed to chat with Symposium participants, answering questions from Symposium Artistic Director, Brian Lewis.


"What first attracted you to the violin?" Brian asked.

Perlman said "I heard the violin on the radio, and I love the sound." He said he loved the recordings of the greats such as Jascha Heifetz, Alfredo Campoli, Ida Haendel, David Oistrakh, and Isaac Stern.

"What about Heifetz did you like?" Brian asked.

"Oh, just that he was God," Perlman deadpanned. "He had so much character in his playing; it was so individual."

Brian asked Perlman if he thought it was important to listen to recordings, and Perlman said that "the danger comes in listening to just one recording."

For example, he's encountered a number of "Heifetz victims" in his life, even one "Milstein victim."

"They need an exorcism!" Perlman said. "Victims take the obvious idiosyncrasies about (their idol) and magnify them."

Perlman said he doesn't like to demonstrate much for students, as he doesn't want them to become imitators.

When Perlman came to America at age 13, his first teachers were Dorothy DeLay and Ivan Galamian.

DeLay was much different from the strict, Russian-trained teacher he'd had in Israel. For example, DeLay "believed in involving the student in the decision-making about music."

"She would say, 'Sugarplum, what are you missing here? Where are the sequences?' or 'Sugarplum, what's your concept of G#?"

Galamian cut more to the point.

"IT'S OUT OF TUNE," Perlman said, in Galamian's Russian-flavored accent.

"Galamian was able to take people who were moderately talented and make them play well," Perlman said of his mentor. Though he studied with both, "I worked harder for him than I did for her, because I knew she wouldn't KILL ME." (Cue audience laugh track....)

Galamian had a deep concept of what makes a sound, what is at the core of the sound. On the other hand, DeLay "taught me how to think musically," Perlman said. "The way I teach -- a lot of it is inspired by her example."

"Any experience you can have teaching will improve your playing," Perlman told the audience. "When you teach, listening is the number one quality you need."

Brian asked Perlman what his most challenging performance was.

Perlman said he could remember some memory slips. "I had a couple where I actually composed a piece," Perlman said. "For about 10 seconds I composed a piece---10 VERY LONG seconds...." Perlman imitated the bewildered conductor, then imitated himself -- lost but improvising.

An audience member asked if Perlman recommended a specific practice regimen. Perlman said no, but "I recommend not over-practicing." After five hours, the brain loses its capacity to absorb anything, he said. "Don't practice blindly. You have to have a reason to practice," something particular to accomplish. "Put as much music into your practicing as possible," he said, so it is not all technical work. "Technique must make a connection with the music you are making." Also, practice in rhythms. "Get really used to one rhythm, then destroy it with another."

One teacher asked him how he can play in tune so well with such large fingers.

"Well, I'M TALENTED," he said, drawing more laughter.

"No no. Look, it's difficult," he said. "Each finger, I sort of push the other away. Sometimes I play four notes in a row with the same finger. I believe every note has its own house up there."

Asked about the importance of chamber music, he said, "Chamber music, for me, is the essence of everything that is right in music. Being able to breath with other musicians, being able to work as one with other musicians."

"If someone is good at chamber music," he said, "They can do anything they want to do in music!"


May 31, 2007 at 09:13 AM · I certainly would like to have read some comments about other string players and conductors with whom Mr. Perlman has worked (or played). He must have some wonderful memories. Oh my, to have had just a few minutes with him. AND, what has he to say about the new crop of string players coming along? They seem to accomplish so much in such a short time. (Judy Kang, for example, and Sarah Chang), And, there was a Michelle, on the Westside, here in Los Angeles, that I heard play Tschaikovsky. I was spellbound. Her last name escapes me, (she was Asian!) but it seems I remember her stopping playing. It THAT were true, the world lost a real talent. I remember, I would say, "Look out, world, here comes Michelle, and her last name. (Can't seem to remember it.)


May 31, 2007 at 01:00 PM · Hi,

Now this interview has GOOD advice! WOW!


May 31, 2007 at 02:31 PM · Laurie,

Thanks so much for sharing this! I have enjoyed reading your blog from the Starling-DeLay Symposium.


May 31, 2007 at 09:12 PM · Great stuff!

I particularly like what he says about the association of technique and music.


May 31, 2007 at 09:29 PM · "If someone is good at chamber music," he said, "They can do anything they want to do in music!"

So true. It's all about listening.

May 31, 2007 at 10:12 PM · Great blog, Laurie! I love Perlman's playing, and his advice is great. I'm enjoying your coverage of the symposium. Keep it up!! :)

June 3, 2007 at 04:51 AM · Great job! I enjoyed to read very much!

Please keep up your nice works!

Lei Zhang

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