Itzhak Perlman appears on the Stephen Colbert Show 9/19/12

September 20, 2012 at 04:03 PM · It is refreshing to see the violin featured on a popular television program. As Stephen Colbert said, "I'm giving the violin the 'Colbert Bump,'" and now we can expect kids from all across the U.S. to take up the instrument. Hah!

Here's the interview with Itzhak Perlman from the Colbert Report

Here is his performance of Fritz Kreisler's "Spanish Dance"

And an Internet exclusive, Here is his performance of Kreisler's "Liebesfreud" (Love's Joy)

Replies (26)

September 21, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Mr. Perlman is probably today's best ambassador for the violin and for classical music in general. In addition to being a great violinist, he is of course as comfortable speaking to audiences as he is playing the fiddle.

My wife and I heard him at Ravinia on September 8th. He played several short pieces with orchestral accompaniment, including the music from Schindler's List, and other standards by Kreisler, Tchaikovsky, and others.

He announced each piece, and his ease, sense of humor, and ability to connect with an audience, in addition to his usual level of musical excellence, made for a great evening.

He was the second half of the program (Beethoven's 5th Symphony was the first half). The programme listed the second half as Mr. Perlman playing "various" pieces. So when he came onstage and got seated, he announced that the music he was to play was by the composer "Various." He then added that this was even though he wasn't playing a StradiVARIUS. Got a nice laugh.

September 21, 2012 at 03:43 PM · Really enjoyed that! Colbert should be commended for booking him. It seems to me that Mr. P's intonation is not quite what it used to be, but I love his sound, timing and interpretation. Always delightful.

September 21, 2012 at 07:46 PM · I loved it, crunch and all. That/those mics were pretty unforgiving and still, I think he did a wonderful job of it. I appreciate what he does and how he works to connect with (all) audiences. He's an ambassador we'd all do well to try and emulate. As for intonation, meh, doesn't bother me any.

September 21, 2012 at 11:14 PM · Sander - I saw Perlman in concert some 25 or 30 years ago. He made a similar joke regarding the categories of donors which were listed below the final work on the program. I guess that joke must work well for him if he's still using it after all these years :)

September 22, 2012 at 12:41 AM · Very nice to see and hear. Yes, the miking and the studio acoustics didn't give Perlman or the "Soil" the best bloom - but stil...

Thanks for putting it up, Laurie!

PS, speaking of Perlman's way with an audience, one of my favorite things that I heard him say was re the Bazzini "Ronde du Lutn": he didn't know what else Bazzini wrote but it hardly mattered, as B. seemed to use up almost all of his allotted notes on that one number!

September 22, 2012 at 04:30 PM · It will not play in Australia either. I presume it is something to do with copyright.

September 22, 2012 at 05:05 PM · do you really think he is playing his "soil" strad on a television show?

September 22, 2012 at 07:28 PM · That was indeed the Soil Strad.

September 22, 2012 at 07:49 PM · ok. I wouldn't do that :D

September 23, 2012 at 09:22 PM · Intonation - "sharpies" or "flatties" - which one is Itzhak? I'd classify him as a "Let's see YOU try it-y". This is not just to John. Really. I sometimes get caught up myself in being hyper-critical or over-focusing on something and losing the forrest for the trees. Yes, let's hear keenly, but let's enjoy in toto what an artist is offering us.

September 24, 2012 at 10:15 PM · It's a question of degree and what we focus on. Yes, we do all hear differently.

September 25, 2012 at 12:03 AM · I've said this before, but years ago my teacher told me a story from an orchestra violinist who presumably was there when it happened. Seems that Nathan Milstein came to play with an orchestra (I don't remember which one), and at the rehearsal, after a few remarks by the conductor, the oboist gave an A and the orchestra tuned. The same A again gave Milstein a chance to tune, and he was clearly slightly sharp from the rest of the orchestra. He signalled the conductor that he was ready. The conductor said something like, "But Mr. Milstein, you are tuned a bit higher than the orchestra."

"Don't worry," said Milstein, "They'll come up."

I've always loved that story, and I do hope it's true.

I think that if you listen real carefully to any good violinist and even the great recordings, you'll hear ever so slight variations in pitch, either for effect or for who knows what reason.



September 25, 2012 at 02:07 AM · I've heard a somehwat similar story about Szerying. But his idea was that being slightly above pitch would help him cut through and project a bit more. I don't know.

I've also heard that Heifetz supposedly sometimes purposely played octaves a bit off so they would be heard more as two distinct notes. I've also heard this story from two different piano tuners - apparently it was in their grapevine: that Heifetz had a tendency to play sharp in the upper register, and would have his pianos tuned to accomodate that! Again I don't know.

One thing I meant to add in my last post: yes, we all hear differently and it's good to hear keenly. In fact I have heard Perlman play out of tune sometimes. So what? He's great and he's human. But depending how we focus, I think that there is a danger of a slippery slope, where before we know it, we're sitting back like armchair generals being overly critical of people we're not even close to being in the same league with. If we notice something, fine. But let's not lose the forest for the trees.

September 25, 2012 at 09:38 AM · "Yes, we do all hear differently."

Yes indeedy, Raphael. I can't listen to Joshua Bell, he's always just sharp, uncomfortably. Yehudi Menuhin, on some nights I can't listen to recordings that are other times okay. Hilary Hahn and Gil Shaham I dont seem to have a problem with.

September 25, 2012 at 01:22 PM · Maybe somebody Like Perlman should bring his own microphones!

September 25, 2012 at 06:53 PM · Oh, for Pete's sake, people! This was a lightweight guest appearance on a comedy program. No, he didn't need to bring his own mikes. Yes, it's OK if the performance wasn't absolutely perfect in every millisecond. (That's a feature of live performance! No second, fifth, and eighth takes. No airbrushing.) Of course he used his Strad- why not? Can it not be defiled by being played in front of an audience that doesn't know what it is?

If classical music does indeed die, this attitude is why. It doesn't have to be so precious all the time. In my book, Perlman gets huge credit for doing Colbert's show. As John Cadd pointed out earlier, he has also done some very funny stuff with Garrison Keillor. In the tradition of Heifetz playing with Jack Benny, Perlman goes out of his way to perform for people who may never darken the door of a recital hall. He's a bigger man and a better musician for it.

September 25, 2012 at 10:13 PM · Obviously, if Heifetz, Perlman or anyone else were to jump off a bridge, it would probably not be a good idea to follw suit. Youtube reactions are often at the level of foul name-calling. The fact is that it's easy to over criticize, and we can lose the forest of the artist's message for the trees, branches and twigs of their being human. And often-times some of the pickiest critics are those who are not anywhere near the trenches and battlefields of professional playing.

For the third and final time, yes let's hear keenly, but not lose sight of the message presented to us by the artist. We really stand to benefit when we turn our fine ears on our own playing.

"He was a man, take him all in all" - Hamlet

September 26, 2012 at 02:48 AM · Thank you, Lisa! you said pretty much what I was thinking.

September 26, 2012 at 04:48 PM · Why call him a great violinist? He is playing with bad sound quality half the time... scraping and crunching. The other half of the time, his sound production is nothing special.

September 27, 2012 at 02:20 AM · the sound is actually not so great, if he wouldn't be playing a stradivari, I can imagine certain people here would discuss about his bad instrument rather than the mikrophones.

Regarding the Milstein Story: I think it is quite normal to tune too high when playing a gut A-String. Even Carl Flesch recommends tuning too high in favor to tune close fifths and in favor to tune during ;) the piece.

I was never a big fan of Mr. Perlman, to me he is sometimes too much in a showing off mood. Yes, some things get easier when you do them a lot... Funny thing: he said in the movie "the art of violin" something about Szeryng wich in my opinion in fact applies to himself: "You cannot say who plays, but you can tell it's good"

To me he is good. But not even the same league as Szeryng. But maybe thats my personal taste.

September 27, 2012 at 08:26 PM · I thought I was done here, but it came to my attention that my name was mentioned, so...

John, you have never offended me. Exasperated me sometimes, but not offended me! ;-) I'm sure I've been exasaperating at times, myself!

I don't want to repeat myself in detail, and refer anyone intereseted to my previous posts here. Once again, it is a question of balance, and not losing the forest for the trees. There is criticism and criticism. Almost anything we come across in life can produce a reaction of "I like" or "I don't like". That's fine. But when someone blithely and dismissively (as has since been done right here since my last post) says about a major artist,"oh he's no good" it often comes across as impertanence. Neither Perlman or anyone else has to be our favorite violinist, but believe me, Perlman didn't get to be where he is just on his charisman and amiability. He won the coveted Leventritt competition when many sought to bar him in our less politically correct days on the basis of his disability. Heifetz said of him "he is an excellent violinist and a very nice human being".

There is a deeper kind of criticism that is much more meaningful. It is evaluative and contextual. It honestly cites an artist's strengths and weaknesses as well as the background, influences, innovations, etc. it helps to give a sense of just why and how say Perlman sounds like Perlman or Grumiaux like Grumiaux. John, maybe this is what you had tried to do with your friends. In this regard I would like to recommend to one and all two wonderful books: "The Great Pianists" by Harold Schonberg and "Great Violinists from Paganini to the 21st Century" by Henry Roth. Of the latter, the great pedagogue, Joseph Gingold said that reading it, he could almost hear them playing again.

And now, I am well and truly done. Or to quote the character, "Fez" from "That 70's show" I SAY GOOD DAY!

September 27, 2012 at 09:27 PM · I just found a nice recording of perlman, one of his very great concerts I suppose. He played with so much soul and brilliance, it enlightens my heart!

September 27, 2012 at 11:05 PM · 30+ years ago I heard Perlman play Bach Sonatas & Partitas (or at least some of them - the memory is hazy) at the Theatre d'Athenee in Paris. Student tickets front row balcony. One small figure seated on the stage below filling the entire hall with the most amazing sounds.

When he finished there was no clapping. Just total stunned silence that went on and on and on until finally someone started to applaud.

Was every note perfectly in tune? I have no idea. Couldn't have told you then, certainly not now. But no concert I have been to before or since has had anywhere near the power of that evening.

Now, how much of the total effect was due to the music of Bach vs that due to the musicianship of Perlman is a question I am most definitely not qualified to answer. But would love to hear what some of you think. . . .

September 27, 2012 at 11:23 PM · I think that in this age of edited recordings where nearly every note is perfect, people may forget that in a live performance, even a top-notch player is going to miss a note here and there.

Also, what sounds scratchy or crunchy up close (or with the mike placed close to the performer) won't sound scratchy out in the room where the audience is. I had to have this concept drilled into me by one of my teachers - I used to play so it would sound pretty under my ear, but then it doesn't carry into the room.

September 28, 2012 at 05:20 AM · A brood, or great performance doesn't depend solely on intonation. That was a delightful, energetic rendition from Anne of the best and most natural violinists today. Itzhak plays with grace and comfort, and without articfice. A terrific ambassador for classical music if you ask me.

I was thrilled to find this as I've been brushing up on this piece to prepare for teaching it...

September 28, 2012 at 01:09 PM · To me, anybody who picks up the violin and plays it at any level is a hero. Objectively, to play this kind of instrument perfectly is simply impossible - technically, musically, knowledgeably, spiritually, and above all recreating the composer's vision. You want perfection and predictability?...Go watch an assembly line.

The striving is what it's all about. Even that legendary perfect machine, Jascha Heifetz, once said, "There is no top, there are always further heights to reach."

Not only do the greats have off-nights, but the less-than-greats have "on-nights." Haven't you ever seen a violinist not so well known - or for that matter a student (at any level) - give a performance where something just seems to click in and the person gives a compelling reading?

To spend so much of one's life in endless hours of study, practice, and risk-taking on such a capricious, challenging, and illogical instrument as the violin makes anyone a hero in my book.

Just a thought.



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