MUSIC : At Last, an O.C. Bow for Perlman

<i> Gregg Wager is a free-lance writer who occasionally contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

“In some ways I’m an instinctual player,” says famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who will make his Orange County debut Monday at the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

“But, you can’t have any one musician be completely instinctual or completely analytical. I think of my musicianship more in terms of ‘planned instinct,’ though there are really many elements involved.”

Whatever elements there are, Perlman has been dazzling audiences since 1959 when as a shy 14-year-old he appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” an event portending his overwhelming success with American audiences.

Two recent trips to the Soviet Union have further introduced the Israeli-American violinist to an entire nation of new, enthusiastic listeners. “When it rains, it pours,” Perlman commented in a recent phone interview from New York about his performances in Moscow and Leningrad. “Before, I could never get into the country. Now, they can’t get enough of me there.”


Although he has been regularly giving recitals in the Southland since 1966, somehow he has avoided appearances south of Long Beach, until now.

His Arts Center recital, sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, will include violin sonatas by Mozart, Prokofiev and Grieg. Accompanist will be pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim.

Perlman’s happy-go-lucky attitude perhaps has kept his talent fresh and vital over the years and may seem all the more remarkable because of his physical condition.

At the end of World War II, Perlman’s Polish parents moved to Tel Aviv, where he was born shortly after. Stricken at age 4 by poliomyelitis, he lost the use of his legs and to this day must walk on crutches.


Unlike the majority of today’s classical artists, Perlman’s duties remain almost entirely on the stage. Outside of an occasional master class, he has no regular students .

His avoidance of some of the more mundane tasks of being a musician have given him the reputation of a savvy entertainer. His numerous television appearances on credit card commercials, the “Tonight Show” and “Sesame Street” have also contributed to his image, as well as given him a special place in the American popular culture.

“Mostly, my television appearances have been a lot of fun,” he admitted. “It’s a very positive thing because it eases a lot of tension. Many people who watch a lot of television feel uncomfortable around classical musicians because there is this misconception that we are stiff and completely dedicated to our art--that there is this wall around us.

“I believe television has really helped the arts because it allows people to see us as we really are. Especially my appearances on ‘Sesame Street,’ which has had an incredible impact. I love kids (he has five of his own). And more than any other cross section of television viewers, they are the ones who are showing up at my concerts because they saw me on TV.”

Who: Itzhak Perlman.

When: Monday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. with pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim in a program of Mozart, Prokofiev and Grieg.

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: One block east of South Coast Plaza shopping center.


Wherewithal: The concert is sold out, except for a limited number of stage seats at $40 apiece.

Where to Call: (714) 646-6277.