July 26, 2006

Perlman Program Takes Stage

With only three days to wait until The Perlman Program is set to grace the stage of the Greenport school's auditorium this Saturday, world-renowned violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman spoke exclusively with The Independent about the joys of molding the hearts and minds of young musicians intent upon reaching celestial heights in their careers.

Perlman founded Shelter Island's Perlman Music Program, a summer music camp, with his wife Toby in 1995, as a haven and training ground for talented young string players.

Perlman, who met his wife at a similar music program in the Adirondacks, said she was the inspiration for PMP: "It was her dream."

Although not very involved during the program's inception, Perlman was asked to conduct the string orchestra and the end results have been nothing short of life-altering. "Now, I'm a coach at large, or a large coach, as I call myself," he laughed.

As a young boy growing up in Israel, Perlman said he used to listen to the radio and knew, from the time he was only three years old, where his life's path would lead him. Not even a polio diagnosis at the age of four was able to daunt the young dreamer: "When they learned I had polio, my parents didn't feel it was any reason to abandon what I wanted to do. When you have polio, you have to isolate the damage. In my case, the damage was to my legs, not my arms, my ears, my head. So why not?"

Perlman, who went on to reach the pinnacle of musical success, is today one of the world's most renowned violinists, having graced international stages and garnered accolades worldwide.

Not one to rest on the laurels of his talent, Perlman has, instead, chosen to give back the gift of music to other young musicians aching to reach for a dream.

But despite the level of excellence across the board, Perlman said there is an emphasis on allowing kids to be kids. "The philosophy is to discourage cutthroat competition and have more camaraderie between the kids. A lot of these kids come from high-pressure homes, and we try to ease things up while they're here."

Not that the camp sports a laid-back musical environment, said Perlman; "It's not a place where you'd say, 'I love to have fun and, by the way, I play an instrument.'"

Perlman believes it is a flaw in our culture that "classical music is not as accessible." When you turn on the radio today, it is not easy to locate a classical music station. "You have to look for it,"

And that's a problem. Perlman believes early exposure to the arts is essential. That's why he believes firmly in scheduling events to open up new doors of possibility for children. A recent "musical petting zoo," held for young children on Shelter Island, was "beautifully attended."

And Greenport's event is another instance of Perlman working toward bringing the arts to children.

"When kids experience something at a young age, it makes an incredible impression. If it was something horrible, they'll never forget it. If it was something beautiful, they'll never forget it. We try to go for the beautiful."

But despite the fact that Perlman was drawn to the violin as a toddler and has been called one of the most gifted musicians of our time, he does not consider himself a child prodigy. "It wasn't like when I was 10, I was ready for primetime. My gift was good, but not out of the box."

A good thing, Perlman believes: If a child of 10 has the talent of a 25 year old, "the challenge of what that child is going to do to maintain that level for the next eight or nine years is enormous. Sometimes, things can go awry."

Age-appropriate talent, he believes, is preferable, so gifts "can develop in a natural way." Even amongst the most talented children, Perlman seeks "some sort of normalcy.

That's why even PMP's brightest young musicians must share stints at KP duty.

Even a career studded with starlight and magical appearances worldwide can go stale. "A lot of danger in doing anything is boredom." That's why Perlman revels in his new "three-pronged" approach to life, which features playing the violin, teaching and conducting. "What I'm doing now is not boring."

Perlman will conduct The Perlman Music Program on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Greenport school auditorium. All tickets are $10 and will be sold at the door, or at the office of Mayor David Kapell. For information, call 477-3000.

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