This is not a review. I wouldn’t attempt to review what is, in most ways, perfection. Rather, it’s the personal story of one of the most exciting, fun evenings of music in memory, and it all revolved around the 10th anniversary gala of the Perlman Music Program’s Winter Residency here in Sarasota.
Although the program involved open rehearsals, master classes and performances for a couple of weeks over the holidays, I’ll concentrate on the concert and gala that took place this Saturday evening at the Sarasota Opera House. The concert featured a bevy of super-talented string players between the ages of 12 and 20, with the internationally renowned and beloved violinist, conductor and singer (yes, singer), Itzhak Perlman.
What we heard at the gala concert is that PMP is doing everything right. The first part of the program was devoted to choral music under the direction of Patrick Romano. Singing string players? Yes. They learn to sing in a chorus so they can sing with their instruments. They learn to breathe and phrase and be great musicians.
These are string players, not singers. But the musicianship they learn from using their God-given instruments, the built-in ones, will make them finer players in the long run. (And there was, somewhere in that group, one soprano who had a real voice. Maybe she’ll become another Judith Blegen, the violinist-turned-Met Opera soprano, who used her instrumental training to become one of the world’s finest singers.)
In the second half, the players did a memorable performance of Mozart’s exposed “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.” As Perlman said before he conducted the work, this may sound like simple music but it’s very difficult and very complex. With Perlman’s help on the podium, the kids got it, especially the richness of the inner voices, and this was a beautifully crafted presentation.
They concluded with the outer movements of Mendelssohn’s great octet for strings in the orchestral version. Here, it was the lower voices that soared, especially in the final movement when the basses and cellos positively buzzed with passion and precision.
But now we come to the personal part. Toby Perlman and I were both at the High School of Music and Art in New York City at about the same time. That means we’ve known each other for more than a half-century. Her inspiration gave birth to the wondrous PMP. And the party that followed the concert, and included the faculty and students as well as sponsors and PMP Friends, was what making music is all about.
After a sumptuous dinner at Michael’s On East, the Perl-Tones — renamed the Try-Tones for this event — took the stage for some of the most cultivated Doo-wop in the history of music: Bass player Rachel Calin, violinist/singer Sean Lee and Merry Peckham (all faculty members) joined with choral director/Doo-wop soprano extraordinaire, Patrick Romano, and basso Woo-Woo-Woo specialist Itzhak Perlman for renditions of the 1956 best-seller, “In the Still of the Night,” and, our favorite, “Walk Like a Mensch.” Who knew?
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