Itzhak Perlman in Seattle
When we got the booklet in the mail for the Seattle Symphony’s 2012-2013 season, I immediately made note of Itzhak Perlman’s scheduled appearance. He would be performing a solo recital. Not with the symphony, but presumably with a piano accompanist. No program was listed. No additional information. A few months later, the Saturday morning when tickets went on sale to non-subscribers, I logged on to the website and spent an hour trying to order tickets. I’d see a pair of seats, select them, give order information, click on buy, and after a few minutes I’d be told the order didn’t go through. I’d start again, this time another row or two back. Finally I called the box office, held for a long time, spoke to someone, and was able to get seats in the fifth row, seats that had long disappeared online. I don’t know what was going on. But no matter. We had our seats.
Last week, the Seattle Times previewed the concert. I was delighted to learn that Perlman would be playing The Franck violin sonata, one of my favorite pieces, accompanied by pianist Rohan de Silva. Monday, I looked at the symphony site to confirm the program and starting time for Tuesday’s concert. That’s when I saw that at the same start time, 7:30 PM, Aaron Neville would be performing as well in the smaller venue at Benaroya Hall. I warned Gail that the building would be that much more crowded, so we should think about getting there early for parking and a bite to eat. Gail’s response: why were we going to hear Perlman rather than Neville? I passed on that one. Some questions just aren’t answerable.
Tuesday evening, we arrived at 6:20. Not early enough. There’s only one eating option in the Boeing Gallery, the open space that runs inside the building along 3rd Avenue, with the Chihuly chandeliers on the north and south ends, elevators from the parking garage, coat check, and entry to the two theaters. Namely, Puck’s Café. (Puck as in Wolfgang Puck.) The website says you can “arrive early and enjoy a relaxing dinner or lunch before you attend the concert.” I suppose so, if relaxing means standing on line for 20 minutes, then searching for an empty table among the two-tops squeezed together in the Boeing Gallery, with tiny chairs, no separation from your neighbors, a view of busses and people standing in wait for them outside the window. But if we wanted to eat at a restaurant nearby, we would have had to arrive much earlier. So we got on line. I had the turkey dinner, with green beans and carrots, a small salad, and a scoop of mashed potatoes. Gail had the evening’s sandwich special, pulled pork, with salad. We felt fortunate to find seating, just across from the doorway to the Neville concert.
Then we headed in to find our seats. Once seated, we looked down the row some distance and found an unexpected concertgoer calmly awaiting the music. It was the dog pictured below via Gail’s iPhone, no doubt wondering why he wasn’t next door with Aaron.
Gail speculated that, like our friend Brooke’s border collie Trip, who howls when Brooke plays her harp, this audience member might howl to the violin. That would be a charming bonus. But no. In fact, when I looked over at intermission, he was gone. Gail thought he disappeared before the program even began. Maybe he really did come for Aaron Neville and realized his error just in time.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard Perlman perform. Over the years, he has always walked on stage with the aid of crutches, but this time the doors opened and he raced ahead of Rohan de Silva (and the piano music page turner) in his motorized scooter. He positioned the scooter at an angle, rotated his seat on it ninety degrees, and I found myself staring at him head on, some thirty feet away. Handkerchief out, placed on the violin under his chin, a nod to Rohan, and they began Beethoven’s first sonata for violin and piano. A good warmup piece. Not high on my list of favorite music, but what tone he has on the violin. And de Silva was a welcome accompanist. So too the young page turner.
After a brief retreat to the wings, they returned for César Franck’s sonata in A major for violin and piano. As noted, this one’s near the top of my list of favorite chamber pieces, and they were magnificent. I’d have to dig through my record collection to verify, which I won’t do now, but I’m pretty sure the recording I bought of this work many decades ago is the outcome of the Perlman-Ashkenazy collaboration featured in the video above. The narrator states at the 11-second mark that it’s their first collaboration, in London in July (1968, according to the video notes at youtube). Have a listen. Gosh it’s great.
In the second half, Perlman focused on showpieces. I couldn’t help thinking that he was having fun participating in the long tradition of great virtuosi dazzling audiences with their astonishing skill, at the expense perhaps of musical values, but what the hell, let’s just go for it.
The one scheduled piece was Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in G minor for violin and piano, familiarly known (though not to me) as “Devil’s Trill.” According to the program notes of Steven Lowe,
some 200 concertos flowed from Tartini’s musical veins, but in truth, history has accorded him the dubious honor of being a “one-work” composer. That one work is his so-called “Devil’s Trill” Sonata, written, so he claimed, following a dream in which he sold his soul to the Devil. “I gave him my violin out of curiosity to see what he could do with it. To my amazement, I heard him play with consummate skill a sonata of exquisite beauty that surpassed the boldest flights of imagination. I was enchanted, my breath stopped and I awoke. Seizing my violin, I tried to reproduce some of the sound I heard in my dream, but in vain. The piece I composed, although the best I ever wrote … is but a far cry from what I heard in my dream.”
What to say? Well, Gail loved it. I thought it was good fun. They exited, the audience roared approval, they came and went, then returned to play the expected sequence of encores. The page turner had a stack of music about a foot thick in her arms. The woman across the aisle from us screamed, “Thank you! Thank you!”, which seemed at least a little over the top. After all, encores weren’t in doubt. The program even said, “Additional works to be announced from the stage.”
This is where Perlman’s personality shines through, as well as his other great instrument, his sonorous bass voice. He’s a warm, genial host. Had I written this post Tuesday night, I would have remembered what followed in some detail. Now it’s faded. Let’s see. Two Fritz Kreisler transcriptions. A Brahms Hungarian dance. That must have been one of the Kreisler transcriptions. A piece by one of the great violinists who came before Perlman, Joseph Joachim. Music from Schindler’s List.
The Schindler announcement brought a thunderous response, even before they played it. We might have been excited too, had we ever watched the movie, had we thereby been familiar with the soundtrack, and had we further understood that Perlman played on that soundtrack. Here:
After those four pieces and another that escapes me, they headed off. Additional thunderous applause. A return. One more piece. A trifle. But as showy a trifle as I’ve seen a violinist perform. Up and down the fingerboard Perlman’s fingers flew. Higher up the fingerboard than one could imagine possible, with notes that must be near the limit of high frequency audibility for my aging ears. Crazy. Nothing could follow that. We applauded, then raced to our car.
A thoroughly entertaining evening. Gail may even agree.