brush
with greatness

   But for good manners, I would have had
   Itzhak Perlman's E string
 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn 1984, my favorite string player, the god who is Itzhak Perlman was playing a few gigs with the Oregon Symphony. My viola teacher (who happened to be a violinist) played in the first violin section of the OSO. A limited number of rehearsal passes were available for members to distribute to their students. Would I like to go? 

Woohoo! 

I sit amongst about twenty music students scattered among the orchestra level seats in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Most of them are half my age. (After a while you become inured to the embarrassment.) We wait in hushed awe. 

Perlman makes his way onto the stage from the wings with his metal crutches (I believe his disability is due to childhood polio) to vigorous applause from the orchestra and the rehearsal audience. A gentleman carries his Stradivarius for him until he is settled in a wide black metal chair. With his trademark good humor and a quip (I couldn't hear all that well but I think he joked about taking a tempo that was not humanly possible) he was ready for a brief rehearsal of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. 

Itzhak Perlman is a marvel to watch and, of course, a treat for the ears. When you see his hands (on tv), it's hard to believe that those thick fingers can move so quickly and with such precision. Instead of holding his instrument under his chin at a 45 degree angle from his chest as most players do, it sits almost on top of his left shoulder and nearly extends the line segment that the two shoulders form, but his head faces forward looking down. 

Perlman's face is a sight to behold as he performs. Itzhak does not seem capable of preventing the feelings of the music from travelling across his large, doughy visage. In serious passages the features bunch up with concentration and focus. In lighter passages the eyebrows and forehead lift and there is a bounce to his movements that betray his revelry. How can you not enjoy such honest, lively music making? 

The Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto is a virtuoso's dream. It's a big romantic work with a blazing finish. But this was only a rehearsal. Professional soloists conserve their energy (both physical and musical) for the gig, so in the rehearsal they skipped about through the spots where he wanted to check tempos (o.k., tempi if you're a little more diligent with your Italian) with the conductor. He did, however, play a nice sized piece of the final movement with only half of his energy was still nothing short of spectacular.

 

At the end of the rehearsal, Itzhak remained as most of the youngsters gathered in front of him requesting autographs. I was reluctant to join them (Wouldn't all of these stories be just a *little* more interesting if I was a bit more obnoxious?) but found myself standing on the fringe of the group to hear what he might have to say. 

After signing a few autographs and engaging in some small talk with the kids, he casually reached for his quarter million dollar Cremonese violin and casually unwinds a peg, letting loose a string that he wanted to change. He took the used string, and with a devilish smirk, tossed it above the tangled knot of admirers. The arc was just high enough that it looked as if it might come my way. My synapses took over and I lunged for it. At the last second, I realized I would have to mow down one of the little fellas to get it. Not wanting to make a scene in front of my musical hero, I stayed myself. Barely. 

But a day hasn't gone by where I haven't... No, it doesn't keep me up nights. (Even though he used the same brand string as I - Thomastic / Dominant, I believe.) I don't know if he really needed to change the string. I think he might have just wanted to give us a little thrill, which it did. 

 
 

brush: Ted Rooney isn't a doctor, but he plays one on t.v.

 

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