Itzhak Perlman brings his violin virtues back to UNLV

Violin strings turn into musical wings under his exceptional fingers.

Then he soars.

That you know. What don’t you know about Itzhak Perlman? Probably lots.

Fear not, for we’ve assembled a Perlman primer — peppered with a few comments he’s made over the years — as the virtuoso brings his strings back to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Saturday night:

"Child prodigy is a curse because you’ve got all those terrible possibilities. … For every child prodigy that you know about, at least 50 potential ones have burned out before you even heard about them."

■ Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, stricken with polio at age 4 and turned on to classical music after hearing a performance on the radio, the boy destined for violin superstardom was denied admission to Israel’s Shulamit Conservatory, told he was too tiny to hold a violin.

Destiny would not be denied, however. Young Itzhak taught himself to play using a toy fiddle, finally gaining entrance to the conservatory and also studying at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv.

■ Recovering from polio fairly well as a child, Perlman still uses crutches and an electric scooter and plays while seated.

■ Should sharing the same show with Topo Gigio, the Italian puppet mouse be considered an auspicious intro to American audiences? Absolutely, as Perlman’s two appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1958 while a 13-year-old established him here, followed by a Carnegie Hall debut in 1963.

"There are people who are uncanny, who are finished products at a young age. I wasn’t, thank God."

■ Beyond his flying fingers, Perlman also has exercised his pipes, singing the role of "un carceriere" (a jailer) on a recording of "Tosca" that also featured Placido Domingo and in a telecast with Luciano Pavarotti.

■ Several pretty ritzy folks have been his audience, including Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh and Barack Obama, at the president’s inaugural.

■ Among honors galore, Perlman in 2003 was a Kennedy Center honoree.

■ Only the best for the best: Perlman plays a 1714 Soil Stradivarius, considered one of the world’s finest.

"I don’t feel that the conductor has real power. The orchestra has the power and every member of it knows instantaneously if you’re just beating time."

■ Doubling as a conductor in recent years, Perlman took the gig as principal guest conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, served as music adviser of the St. Louis Symphony and was appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the Westchester (N.Y.) Philharmonic.

■ Branching out into other genres, Perlman explored his swinging side, cutting an album with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, has performed klezmer tunes and made his mark in film music as a soloist on John William’s Oscar-winning score for "Schindler’s List," as well as in "Memoirs of a Geisha" with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

■ Did any of his children — he’s got five of them with wife Toby — follow Papa’s path? Sort of. Perlman sired a rocker: Son Rami of the band Something for Rockets.

■ Rifle through his accolades and you find this one: In a 2005 poll of the 200 Greatest Israelis, Itzhak Perlman placed 135th.

"The goal is to survive your gift."

■ Imagine the family reunion: Perlman is a distant cousin to wacky comic Howie Mandel.

To date, no one has spotted Perlman wearing an inflated rubber glove on his head.

Try it, Itzhak. Imagine the YouTube hits.

While young YouTubers are there, perhaps they’ll scroll through your videos and discover what artistry and elegance truly mean.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.

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