BYU Philharmonic welcomes Itzhak Perlman and former philharmonic director

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Award-winning violinist Itzhak Perlman plays the violin during the National Menorah lighting in Washington D.C. on Dec. 10, 2010. Perlman performed with the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra on Oct. 11 and 12. (Associated Press)

Itzhak Perlman, the prestigious Israeli-American violinist, graced the BYU stage Oct. 11 and 12 in a two-night event that also welcomed back previous BYU Philharmonic Director Kory Katseanes.

The Bravo! Professional Performing Arts series presented the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied by Perlman in a highly anticipated concert. Originally scheduled for February of this year, the event was rescheduled to Oct. 11 and 12 due to the construction of the new music building.

According to his website, Perlman has defied the odds from the beginning of his life. He learned to play the violin at age three and then contracted polio at age four, causing many to doubt his potential as a professional violinist. Most solo violinists perform standing, something Perlman is not able to do, yet this obstacle did not stand in the way of his success.  

Perlman’s U.S. career began at age 13 when he made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and began his studies at The Juilliard School. Throughout his career, he has played across the world, accompanying many orchestras and playing in some of the most prestigious performance halls. Perlman now teaches music education at Juilliard and through the Perlman Music Program.

Over the course of his career, Perlman has won 15 Grammy Awards and four Emmy Awards. In addition to his numerous awards, Perlman also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. 

According to Nathan Haines, BYU’s current director of orchestras, both of Perlman’s performances have been sold out since before the initial concert dates in February. Those lucky enough get tickets have eagerly awaited Perlman’s arrival in Provo. 

“We bought our tickets the day they initially sold a year ago,” Matthew Paez, a BYU vocal performance student, said.

Paez explained it is rare to see a crowd react to a musician the way audiences do for Perlman; they stand for him entering the stage and erupt in a roar once his bow is lowered.

“He’s kind of like a classical music rockstar,” Paez said.

Following the first of the two performances, Ashley Tenney, the first chair cellist in the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, shared how memorable the experience of performing with Perlman was.

“It was really neat to play with Itzhak Perlman. His humility is really special with his incredible talent behind it. I think you just feel the purity of the music because of his nature and his ability,” Tenney said.

Outside the world of classical music, Perlman’s works remain recognizable and notable. Perlman is the solo violinist heard in the main theme of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” soundtrack. He performed on Sesame Street and played the national anthem for a Giants-Mets baseball game in 2016.

“Many people may not have seen Perlman before, but they certainly have heard him before,” Haines said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that Itzhak Perlman is one of the greatest violinists of our generation.”

For many students in the Philharmonic, Perlman is a familiar name. Josue Marin, a BYU student studying music from Spanish Fork, shared that playing with Perlman was a significant moment for him.

“I’ve listened to him since I was in eighth grade. So yeah, for some time now,” Marin said. 

Colette LeMone, a senior music student and viola player in the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, said playing with Perlman was an amazing experience.

“He’s a master and it’s very inspiring to see him play such a famous work with us and to learn from him. We performed with him for maybe thirty minutes today but I already learned so much from him, and it’s very exciting,” LeMone said.

LeMone also expressed how special it was to have former BYU Philharmonic Director Kory Katseanes back for one last show. For LeMone, Katseanes was a big reason why she came to BYU to study music.

“So many people look up to him and have gone on because of what he taught us. More than what he taught us musically, but as people and going out into the world and sharing our talents with everyone,” LeMone said.

Haines recalled his own time at BYU studying under the direction of Katseanes, and explained that before the delays it was Katseanes’ plan to retire with this concert.

“I’m more than happy to welcome him back,” Haines said.

The two directors shared the duties of conducting the performances, with those in the audience having the unique experience of seeing the two pass the baton between each other.

“When it comes to Kory Katseanes, people often say, ‘Oh you must have big shoes to fill.’ I say, ‘No, they are actually big boots,’” Haines said. “He’s built such a legacy over the 24 years that he’s been the director of orchestras. This has really been a special and pivotal night for all of us.” 

Looking forward to the future of the BYU orchestras, Haines shared he is humbled to be director of orchestras and is dedicated to launching a new and exciting chapter for them.

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