Perlman & Friends Show What Mentoring Can Accomplish

On April 19, as part of Symphony Center Presents, world-renown violinist Itzhak Perlman graced the large stage of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without the orchestra. He was there to perform chamber music and he brought along no less than eight of his talented mentees from the Perlman Music Program. Started at the instigation of Perlman’s wife Toby, and realized in 1993, the Perlman Music Program provides young musicians with year long training and performance opportunities. The works chosen to perform were all within the confines of easy listening, but that just brought more focus to the contribution of the musicians. Once your focus is set, you realize quickly that there are a lot of superb artists out there, made even greater by Itzhak’s calm and committed tutelage.

The first piece was the Mozart Piano Quartet in E-flat major. Perlman was joined by violist Molly Carr, cellist Yves Dharamraj and pianist Kwan Yi. The ensemble played with assurance, and the true nature of this piece was revealed by their refined rendition. Although ostensibly a piece for four individual voices, the work really was heavy on the piano and violin, with continuo support from the cello and middle ground filigree from the viola. True that all instruments get their shots at the spotlight, but the violin and piano, two of the instruments Mozart toured around with, rarely have their lights diminished. The standout of the performers was Kwan Yi at the piano, who had a very elegant and soft touch. He served to be a fitting and sensitive partner to the strings, helmed by the steady Perlman. The other string players didn’t stand out, perhaps more the result of the music than the music makers.

All involved, including Mr. Perlman, left the stage for the performance of Philippe Hersant’s Eleven Caprices for Two Violins , composed in 1994. Two more students, Erno Kallai and Francesca Anderegg, graced the stage. The work is exemplary. It lasts about 12 minutes, but the music is compelling, intimate and modern. It is a very French take on Bartok’s Duos. Erno Kallai was able to produce a much stronger and louder tone than Ms. Anderegg, which made the caprices unbalanced at times. Regardless of the volume, both violinists were skilled and committed to performing this music, which should be performed often. The piece itself was the standout in this high-quality performance.

After intermission, Perlman came out with a truck load of fantastic musicians to perform Mendelssohn’s Octet. The piece is one of my personal favorites and it was exciting to be able to examine the involvement of all these players in a work written by a 16-year-old. The work began sloppily, the enthusiasm of the various performers leading to tempo disagreements, but within a short time, they adjusted to their collective speed and produced a scintillating and dramatic reading of the first movement. I couldn’t help but to applaud. Shame on me. The remainder of the work was performed equally as well, although I was more wrapped up in enjoying who was playing what at a particular time. The piece is pure genius and I just relished dissecting the flow of sounds coming toward my ears. The group, which included Itzhak Perlman, 1st violin, Erno Kallai, 2nd, Francesca Anderegg, 3rd, and Wanzhen Li, 4th violin, together with violists Kyle Armbrust and Molly Carr, and cellists Jia Kim and Yves Dharamraj, received rapturous applause from the audience, the standing ovation occurring immediately and lasting through the three curtain calls.

Itzhak Perlman never made the performances about him. Of course the first violin is usually a busy task, but he never played in a way that would single him out from the group. He was truly a doting father with his children. I enjoyed the family atmosphere that was created on stage, with a group of eager musicians ready to play with their mentor. It seemed to be more about the music than idol worship, and that made the concert worth attending.

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