Interview: Itzhak Perlman on love and excellence

We run interviews with musicians in this space pretty regularly, but Itzhak Perlman is in a very different class from most. At this point in his career, the Israeli violinist's mastery of his instrument is so advanced that he's practically synonymous with the concept of greatness, almost as if what he does matters less than how well he does it – think Porsche or Michael Jordan here. Or, for that matter, Stradivarius.

The Hook: Your wife is also a violinist; what role does the instrument play in your relationship?
Itzhak Perlman: Both of us were attending a summer program similar to the one she started seventeen years ago. It's kind of a very sweet story – she heard me playing one of the concerts, and she came backstage and asked me to marry her. I was seventeen. That was our first meeting. We studied with the same teachers, and we did get married. That was 43 years ago.

The Hook: How has being in a wheelchair affected your musical career?
Itzhak Perlman: I was not always in a chair. Right now I use a scooter, and I walk on stage when I play with an orchestra. In the beginning, not everybody thought that I was going to be able to have a career, simply because of the involvement with traveling – getting into halls, having access to the halls. That was a real problem, and it is still, every now and then. A lot of the halls now are fairly decent, but every now and again I find out that the dressing room is downstairs and there's no elevator. And so what they do is they build me something on the stage level. I wish that despite all the laws, every place would be accessible. You cannot believe the feeling of rejection [of seeing] three or four stairs that you can't go into. It's a feeling of basically hostility from the establishment. It's like they're telling you, "Here are our stairs, and you're not welcome here."

The Hook: Can you tell me about some of your favorite instruments from over the years?
Itzhak Perlman: My Strad, basically, has been the instrument of my dreams. It belonged to the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. I played that instrument when I was in my early twenties; I was looking actually for another instrument, and found out that Menuhin knew where that instrument was. I played [his Strad] for about two minutes, and I've never had such an experience in my life. And so I said to him, "I know that will never happen, but if for some reason it does, I would love it if you could please let me know if the violin is for sale. I could buy it." Those were the days where you could actually buy something and feel that you could actually make a loan and be able to afford something great. These days, there's no way that one can afford it, so you go to foundations or you go to private people who own the violins and ask them if they would loan it to you for a couple of years. Getting a really fine Italian instrument, it's very difficult. One thing led to another, and about 23 years ago, he decided that he wanted to sell the violin, and I got it.

The Hook: This almost seems to parallel the story about your wife.
Itzhak Perlman: You're absolutely right.

Itzhak Perlman performs at the Paramount Theater on 4/10. $55.50-$250, 8pm.