The New Maestro in Town
Meet violin virtuoso and the new Musical Director of the Westchester Philharmonic, Itzhak Perlamn. Plus area music aficionados Michael Boriskin (Copland House); Aaron A. Flagg (Music Conservatory of Westchester); Janet Langsam (Westchester Arts Council); and Joshua Worby (Westchester Philharmonic) share their thoughts on what it means to the county.
What does Westchester Philharmonic’s newest conductor have in store for us?
We asked Itzhak Perlman himself, and followed up with Westchester’s musical cognoscenti to get the inside scoop on what this means for the county.
Q & A
Itzhak Perlman—he’s funny and caring (see his Seasame Street Performance for proof), and, boy, can he handle a violin (and soon, a conductor’s wand). But to really know Perlman is to know how much he loves life, and how much he cares about music. Oh yes, and food. Want more details? Keep reading.
Q: Why did you choose Westchester?
A: Well, why not?
Q: Are you planning to move to Westchester?
A: Why? I live so close. One of the reasons it was a no brainier to come here is that I don’t like to travel much. Westchester’s in my backyard and it’s wonderful. The Orchestra is terrific.
Q: Any favorite spots in the county?
A: When it comes to eating, I’ll get there. First I’ll take care of the music, then the food. Actually, I don’t know if that’s the order. I’m still debating that.
Q: How would you compare Carnegie Hall to Purchase?
A: Both are very individual and very
different. It’s like comparing apples and
Q: What new ideas will you be bringing to the Philharmonic?
A: I’m an old-fashioned fellow. I’m planning to do stuff such as Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky—things I love listening to in a concert hall.
Q: Sorry to ask, but there are many who believe that classical music is dying. You?
A: Maybe I’m prejudiced, but from what I’m seeing, it’s doing very well. There are economical problems, but if the audience is exposed to good music, it will work.I’m an optimist.
Q: What rock music do you like?
A: I’m a fifties person. I started listening around 1957 or ’58 to Elvis and to the Beatles. Recently, at the Kennedy Center Honors, I had to toast Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I did it. In fact, in order to have some information about him, I called a former assistant of mine named Rhonda and said, “Help me, Rhonda.”
Q: Going from being a violinist to being a conductor, how are you going to handle such a different position?
A: I’m just looking forward to making music. Conducting is a little bit of everything—it combines elements of teaching, elements of listening, and elements of making music. And everything we’re talking about I’ve been doing. I was teaching in the Juilliard School in the Perlman music program that my wife started thirteen years ago. I actually started conducting there.
Q: In recent years, you’ve been extending your performing career as a conductor. Does this mean you will be playing less often?
A: No. I’ve been conducting for the last thirteen years. Each job complements the other. I’m a better conductor because I’ve been playing and a better violinist because I’ve been conducting.
Q: We’ve noticed that many world-class instrumental virtuosos are choosing to move in the conducting and music direction. For example, the violist Pinkhas Zuckerman [St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and now Canadian National Arts Centre Orchestra], violinist Peter Oundjian [Caramoor], pianist Christoph Eschenbach [Philadelphia Orchestra] are some of the more high-profile crossovers. What is it that motivates virtuosos like you to do this, and why are the majority of these crossovers string virtuosos?
A: I don’t know what’s motivated them. One of the great motivators for me is the exposure to new repertoire. If you start with violin, go down to cello and wind instruments, the repertoire is limited. You start repeating things over and over again. With conducting, you go into symphonic repertoire. It’s fun stuff. It maintains interest and enthusiasm in what you do. Nothing is worse than a bored performer.
Q: What about the younger generation?
A: The younger generation is a multi-front problem. Change has to start at the home. Parents have to feel that exposure to classical music and arts, not just math and science, is part of education. Right now, people feel like music is a luxury. Plus, it’s a global problem having to do with the kind and quality of teaching in public, not private, schools. The position of teacher in the country is not taken seriously enough. After all, when you think about it, teaching is the second most important job in society.
Q: What’s your ideal next move?
A: I’ll be here for a while and we’ll see what happens. It’s a lot of fun to see what happens without actually planning. You get surprised. I have no particular plans other than to do a lot of guest conducting, concerts, and teaching.
Try ascribing value to great music. Good luck!
By Joshua Worby
Executive Director of the Westchester Philharmonic
The musician-philosopher John Cage wrote: “Nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music. Nothing is accomplished by hearing a piece of music. Nothing is accomplished by playing a piece of music. Our ears are now in excellent condition.” It usually is pretentious to attempt to interpret Cage’s words or music, but having studied his work, and later having the pleasure to meet, perform, and dine with him, I’ll go out on a limb: he was certainly not denigrating the act of making or listening to music, but rather taking us mortals to task for the way we insist on ascribing a value to those activities. With apologies to the departed JC, I would pose a corollary: music, the organization of sound across time, arguably may contain no intrinsic meaning, but as we receive it, with well-conditioned ears, it can indeed give meaning to our lives.
To exist, a symphony orchestra relies on charitable support from its community, and in order for it to be artistically vital, it must be fiscally healthy—the two are inextricably linked. As the Westchester Philharmonic’s Executive Director, I am often engaged in asking philanthropists, business leaders, and government entities for money. Most are seasoned supporters of the arts and do not need to be “sold” on the value of doing so. Others have different philanthropic priorities and that’s okay. Yet others, usually either new to the idea of supporting the arts or historically resistant to such overtures, are not so easily convinced. They question the value of doing so. Dutifully, I explain the litany of values that are imparted: how our concerts generate measurable increased economic activity, create jobs, and deliver revenues back to state and local governments. I proudly point to our educational programs in the schools, and share the data that show how the study of music is linked to higher math scores and improved attention spans. I pontificate on how our outreach programs for at-risk youth might very well mitigate some of that risk, and how our work with senior centers around the county enables our elder neighbors, those with fixed incomes or limited mobility, to attend our concerts.
This brings us to Itzhak Perlman, the recently appointed artistic director of the Westchester Philharmonic. I can offer the easy answers to obvious questions: Will Maestro Perlman’s presence sell more tickets? Count on it. Will it help our fundraising? Alevai (it should only happen). Does it cement the presence and profile of Westchester County’s signature music organization, the 25-year-old Westchester Philharmonic, which in turn enhances property values, business activity, scholastic achievement, life expectancies,and a general sense of civic well-being? Give me a moment while I punch up the data.
But in the end, I’m selfish about wanting as much beauty in my life as I can get. Itzhak Perlman’s musical gifts are astonishing to anyone who has experienced the transporting power of a single note played by him. I cannot explain why that is good or important. All I know is that a million residents of Westchester County and the surrounding areas—and I—will now have the opportunity to be on the receiving end of those gifts on a frequent and recurring basis. So please buy a ticket (better yet, a season subscription), help us thrive with a generous contribution, then hire a babysitter, dine at a nearby restaurant, tip the valet, and come to the Purchase Performing Arts Center for a concert by the Westchester Philharmonic led by Artistic Director Itzhak Perlman.
And by all means, condition your ears...your heart will follow.
Beyond the Classics
For his charm, his style, we say, “Bravo!”
By Janet Langsam
Executive Director of the Westchester Arts Council
Yes, Itzhak Perlam is a superstar and his presence here brings added luster to our artistic community. We at the Westchester Arts Council applaud him for being equally at home with the standard repertoire as he is with contemporary scores, as was his predecessor Maestro Paul Lustig Dunkel. Maestro Perlman’s virtuosity as a violinist is unmatched.
But, wait a minute. Let’s put aside the international reputation, the four Emmys, the National Medal Award, the Stradavarii, Schindler’s List, solos with every major orchestra, because those of us who grew up with Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts admire him for a whole other reason. Just watch him on Letterman, The Tonight Show, PBS, Sesame Street, and you can’t help but adore him because he is as down-to-earth as he is brilliant. He makes the music accessible with his style, his charm, and his love of the music. So, Mr. Maestro, please, turn on a new generation of Westchester kids to music. And, by the way, seeing as how the world is your audience, please help them beat a path to the door of the Westchester Philharmonic to see, hear, and embrace their new artistic director.
But can he lead?
A violonist does not a conductor make.
By Aaron A. Flagg
Exeutive Director of the Music Conservatory of Westchester
What does Itzhak Perlman’s arrival as artistic director of the Westchester Philharmonic means to Westchester? Despite those excited simply to have someone famous working in their backyard, famous
people are not new for us here in Westchester County. What is exciting is having great artists work here and invest sufficient time to enrich the lives of the people and organizations in Westchester County and beyond.
For example, Westchester resident Renata Scotto shared her vocal artistry through teaching at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, Jon Faddis (jazz trumpeter) brings his vast jazz experience to the students at Purchase College, and Aaron Copland (composer and conductor) wrote his opera Tenderland in Ossining and Piano Fantasy in the Town of Cortlandt. Perlman’s arrival signals another opportunity for yet another great artist to use his experiences to add to the foundation of a successful Westchester arts organization.
Perlman’s well-deserved fame is as a concert violinist. Like many great artists in their later years, he has added teaching to his activities. He does this primarily through the Perlman Music Project, which he and his wife started in 1995 for very advanced string students. More recently, he wants to communicate his artistry through conducting. Westchester County is excited to have a “front-row seat” to watch his development in this newest career. The arts world has seen this many times, be it with opera star Placido Domingo conducting operas, trumpeter Gerard Schwartz conducting the Seattle Symphony, or fellow violin/viola virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman conducting the National Art Centre in Canada. Playing as a soloist is demanding. Building a true ensemble spirit with 73 exceptional and independent-minded musicians is demanding in quite another profound way. It’s like stars in individual sports leading others in that sport. Imagine golfer Phil Mickelson coaching the Ryder Cup team or tennis great Pete Sampras coaching the United States Davis Cup team.
People get excited. In this case, the excitement is about the imagined potential of bringing more people to classical music concerts, filling seats, and raising the profile of the orchestra in the county and nationally all of which impacts the financial and artistic bottom line.
The real important questions, though, are: Will Westchester audiences respond to Perlman’s leadership after the “hype” dies down and the compelling vision for this orchestra is articulated? And will the orchestra continue its celebrated work in music education which has long-term benefits for our residents? Will the orchestra musicians, who quickly get over hype, be inspired to respond consistently with passionate music making?
What does this mean for Westchester? We can only hope that Perlman will continue his own personal commitment to music education through his new appointment and build upon the Westchester Philharmonic’s own notable successes in supporting music education.
Personally, I look forward to the Music Conservatory of Westchester partnering with Maestro Perlman and the Orchestra on continuing to bring quality music education to the residents of Westchester County. Can his education work with exceptional string students translate to positive impact for all types of students in Westchester County? There are already some orchestra members who are also faculty members of the Music Conservatory of Westchester. Will his arrival feel like a soloist visit (a weekend vacation) or a meaningful investment in this county?
Stay tuned to find out…
Beyond Comfort Music
Itzhak Perlman may be well known around the world—but will he be giving unknown composers a shot?
By Michael Boriskin
Pianist and Artistic and Executive Director of Copland House in Cortlandt Manor
With concert music increasingly relegated to the margins of daily life, I’m excited by anything that gets people talking about what musicians are up to. Violinist Itzhak Perlman’s unexpected appointment as Westchester Philharmonic Artistic Director has created extensive buzz, and it is a handsome gift to have his abundant musical talents and considerable personal charms on display hereabouts.
I confess to feeling some unease reading about his initial thoughts on programming, when he spoke of offering “comfort music,” after teasingly dismissing the notion of performing “some contemporary composers you’ve never heard of.” (Of course, every great creative master was unknown at one time!) Like gourmets, and even gourmands, concertgoers tend to be best served by a balanced diet; all-meat, all-dessert, or all-appetizers—like all-Brahms, all-Rossini, or all-Haydn—can become unsatisfying after a while. Many memorable and deeply moving listening experiences are to be found beyond the tried-and-true of the musical mainstream. And it is just as thrilling to discover an unheralded young Copland, Gershwin, or Stravinsky among us as it is to encounter a major new performing talent. One of the Philharmonic’s proudest and most newsworthy moments came when the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to a brand-new composition the orchestra commissioned, premiered, and recorded.
Helping to launch new works (or revive unfamiliar old ones) is absolutely essential to the health and vitality of the music world. In the other arts, no one ever questions this. Perlman has a valuable opportunity to have an impact on the region’s artistic life in a way that a touring virtuoso simply cannot, as this appointment automatically makes him one of our region’s cultural leaders. I hope that when he crafts his programs for the Philharmonic, he will remember that he will be leading an orchestra conceived in idealism and nourished by a fortifying diet of innovation, adventure, discovery, and deep commitment.