Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman
יִצְחָק פרלמן
Perlman before playing The Star-Spangled Banner at Citi Field in New York City in 2016
Born (1945-08-31) August 31, 1945 (age 78)
Toby Friedlander
(m. 1967)

Itzhak Perlman (Hebrew: יִצְחָק פרלמן; born August 31, 1945) is an Israeli-American violinist. He has performed worldwide and throughout the United States, in venues that have included a state dinner for Elizabeth II at the White House in 2007, and at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. He has conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Westchester Philharmonic. In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perlman has won 16 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and four Emmy Awards.

Early life

Perlman was born in 1945 in Tel Aviv. His parents, Chaim and Shoshana Perlman, were Jewish natives of Poland and had independently emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in the mid-1930s before they met and later married. Perlman contracted polio at age four and has walked using leg braces and crutches since then and plays the violin while seated. As of 2018, he uses crutches or an electric scooter for mobility.

When Perlman was three years old, he sat and listened attentively to a violin recital on the radio, which inspired him to become a violinist. His mother soon bought him a toy violin, and he instantly taught himself to play melodies. His parents tried to enroll him at the Shulamit Conservatory, but he was denied admission for being too small to hold a violin. Despite his handicap, he began learning the violin a year later. His first teacher was a café violinist. At age five, Perlman was admitted to the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv (now the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music), where he studied for eight years with Rivka Goldgart, a violin teacher of Russian origin, and gave his first recital at age ten. He moved to the United States at age 13 to study at the Juilliard School and Meadowmount School of Music with the violin teacher Ivan Galamian and his assistant Dorothy DeLay.



Ed Sullivan congratulates 13-year-old Perlman after a concert (1958)
Perlman in 1984

Perlman gained national attention when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1958, and again in 1964, on the same show with the Rolling Stones. His performances on the show included pieces such as Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee", Wieniawski's "Polonaise Brillante", and Mendelssohn's first violin concerto. In 1963 and 1964, Perlman made appearances with the National Orchestra Association in Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 1, the New York Youth Orchestra in Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

With the Zionist Organization of America's sponsorship, Perlman began touring cities in the U.S. and Canada as a soloist, and quickly established himself as a leading virtuoso. He made his Carnegie Hall debut performing Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1963 and won the Leventritt Competition in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, Perlman embarked on his first notable concert tour in the United States, performed in 30 cities, including Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Denver, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Haven, Seattle, and St. Louis. Perlman returned twice to the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. During the later part of 1964, Perlman gave several concerts in Israel, a tour that concluded with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv.

Perlman first appeared with the New York Philharmonic at the Philharmonic Hall as a soloist on May 9, 1965, playing Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 under William Steinberg. He debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with the same concerto on February 17, 1966. In 1965, Perlman debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concert under Louis Lane. He debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1966, in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with conductor Thomas Schippers. Perlman made his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on December 16, 1966, playing Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 under Erich Leinsdorf.

Starting in the late 1960s, Perlman began to tour Europe. He debuted with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1968, performing Tchaikovky's violin concerto under the direction of André Previn. On May 25, 1972, Perlman debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic with the same concerto. This was shortly followed by his debut at the Salzburg Festival with a solo performance of Schubert's Rondo and Fantasy for Violin and Piano and Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 3 with Joseph Kalichstein on August 19, 1972. The next day, Perlman performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Vienna Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado. In the following years, Perlman toured as a soloist worldwide.

In addition to an extensive recording and performance career, Perlman has continued to make appearances on television shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street as well as playing at a number of White House functions.

Although Perlman has never been billed or marketed as a singer, he sang the role of "Un carceriere" ("a jailer") on a 1981 EMI recording of Puccini's "Tosca" that featured Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, and Renato Bruson, with James Levine conducting. He had earlier sung the role in an excerpt from the opera on a 1980 Pension Fund Benefit Concert telecast as part of the Live from Lincoln Center series with Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic.

On July 5, 1986, Perlman performed at the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised live on ABC. The orchestra, conducted by Mehta, performed in Central Park.

In 1987, Perlman joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) for its concerts in Warsaw and Budapest as well as other cities in Eastern bloc countries. He toured with the IPO in the spring of 1990 for its first-ever performance in the Soviet Union, with concerts in Moscow and Leningrad, and again in 1994, performing in China and India.

In 2015, on a classical music program titled The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center produced by WQXR in New York City, it was revealed that Perlman performed the uncredited violin solo on the 1989 Billy Joel song "The Downeaster Alexa".

While primarily a solo artist, Perlman has performed with a number of other musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, Jessye Norman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Isaac Stern, and Yuri Temirkanov at the 150th anniversary celebration of Tchaikovsky in Leningrad in December 1990.

As well as playing and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, klezmer, and bluegrass music. He has been a soloist in a number of film scores, such as the theme of the 1993 film Schindler's List by John Williams, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. More recently, he was the violin soloist in the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Perlman played selections from the musical scores of the movies nominated for "Best Original Score" at the 73rd Academy Awards with Ma and at the 78th Academy Awards.

Selected performances

Perlman at the White House in 2007

Perlman played at the state dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II on May 7, 2007, in the East Room at the White House.

He performed John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts" at the 2009 inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama along with Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet). The quartet played live, but the music played simultaneously over speakers and on television was a recording made two days earlier due to concerns that the cold weather could damage the instruments. Perlman was quoted as saying: "It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way."

He made an appearance in Disney's Fantasia 2000 to introduce the segment Pines of Rome, along with Steve Martin.

On November 2, 2018, Perlman reprised the 60th anniversary of his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show as a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


In 1975, Perlman accepted a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. In 2003, he was named the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at the Juilliard School, succeeding his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. He also teaches students one-on-one at the Perlman Music Program on Long Island, NY, rarely holding master classes.

The Perlman Music Program

The Perlman Music Program, founded in 1994 by Perlman's wife, Toby Perlman, and Suki Sandler, started as a summer camp for exceptional string musicians between the ages of 12 and 18. Over time, it expanded to a yearlong program. Students have the chance to have Perlman coach them before they play at venues such as the Sutton Place Synagogue and public schools. By introducing students to each other and requiring them to practice together, the program strives to have musicians who would otherwise practice alone develop a network of friends and colleagues. Rather than remain isolated, participants in the program find an area where they belong.


At the beginning of the new millennium, Perlman began to conduct. He took the post of principal guest conductor at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He served as music advisor to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra from 2002 to 2004. In November 2007, the Westchester Philharmonic announced his appointment as artistic director and principal conductor. His first concert in these roles was on October 11, 2008, in an all-Beethoven program featuring pianist Leon Fleisher performing the Emperor Concerto.


Perlman plays the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhin and considered one of the finest violins made during Stradivari's "golden period." Perlman also plays the Guarneri del Gesù 1743 'Sauret' and the Carlo Bergonzi 1740 'ex-Kreisler'.

Personal life

Perlman lives in New York City with his wife, Toby, also a classically trained violinist. They have five children, including Navah Perlman, a concert pianist and chamber musician. Perlman is a distant cousin of the Canadian comic and television personality Howie Mandel. He has synesthesia and was interviewed for Tasting the Universe by Maureen Seaberg, which is about the condition.


  • Tradition (1987)
  • Duos (1987)
  • Vivaldi: The Four Seasons/3 Violin Concertos (1992)
  • Dvořák in Prague: A Celebration (Sony Classical, 1994, and Kultur Video, 2007)
  • The American Album (1995)
  • In the Fiddler's House (1995)
  • Holiday Tradition (1998)
  • Concertos from My Childhood (EMI, 1999)
  • The Essential Itzhak Perlman (Sony Classical, 2009)
  • Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul (Sony Classical, 2012) with Yitzchak Meir Helfgot
  • Violin Sonatas (Universal Music Classics/Deutsche Grammophon, 2015)
  • The Perlman Sound (Warner Classics, 2015)

With Andre Previn

With Oscar Peterson

  • Side by Side (TELARC CD-83341 1994)

Honors and awards

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