One of the sad truths about classical music in the 21st Century is that it tends to be under-appreciated. You’ve surely seen the viral video from 2007, in which the Washington Post experimented with this very sentiment. Renowned violinist Joshua Bell was strategically placed in a subway station—dressed in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt—in order to count how many people stopped to listen during the morning rush hour. Not many did. It was basically a free 45-minute long concert from one of the nation’s top musicians.
Perhaps Bell, as good as he is, wasn’t enough of a household name. Maybe a marquis violinist like Itzhak Perlman, the famed Schindler’s List musician, would have proven harder to ignore. When he shows up at the Winspear, classical violin attains pop music levels of attention. It was packed last Sunday, and some guests paid upward of $200 per seat. That’s somewhat surprising, really, considering that the middle-aged woman sitting next to me had already started snoozing before Perlman and pianist Rohan de Silva even played a single note.
Then again, I saw more than a few heads nodding off.
Growing up, I watched videos of Perlman teaching master classes and listened to his recordings on repeat. On Sunday, he was more gray-haired and gaunt than the boisterous Perlman of my youth, but it was still him, the legend, nonetheless. With a full-fingered right hand that covers half his fingerboard, this classical music superstar is treasured, perhaps, more than any other violinist on the planet. He has both irresistible charm and Oscar the Grouch-esque eyebrows that make it tempting to watch his crinkling face the entire time. Despite the enormity of his hands, he remains an extremely delicate player. It’s incredible.
It’s unfortunate that the Winspear is not exactly the best venue for a recital for two. The entire performance was a bit muted given the acoustics, taking away the drama of the duo’s musical dynamics. Immutable, though, was Perlman’s irrepressible joy. In the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in G Major for violin and piano, he playfully executed what Perlman always does best: turn phrases into the equivalent of a musical tease. Lush melodies have always suited this artist. He has the control and finesse to pull out big, beautiful lines with his bow (see: Schindler’s List, of course). And the Franck Sonata’s Recitativo-Fantasia is one of those pieces, due in large part to Perlman himself, that resonates for long afterward. Even after you’ve stepped away from the grandeur and dim lighting, you wonder how he made it look and sound so effortless. It’s everything all those years of Youtube-watching promised.