There aren’t enough superlatives available in the English language to describe Itzhak Perlman. The iconic (overused, but appropriate here), legendary, virtuoso and masterful violinist has his only Canadian engagement this season in Calgary on Sept. 21. An Evening with Itzhak Perlman: Cinema Serenade is a Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra benefit concert that will include music from films such as Casablanca, Cinema Paradiso, Out of Africa, Scent of a Woman and Schindler’s List.
Perlman, who was born in what is now Israel and lives in New York, made headlines beyond music in 2014, when he received an apology from Air Canada for not receiving the help he needed after landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Perlman, 74, had polio as a child and uses crutches or a mobility scooter.)
Before heading to Calgary, he spoke with The Globe and Mail’s Marsha Lederman.
We are living in a difficult political climate. I’m wondering, in this political moment, do you think there is a heightened value to what you do?
I always felt that music brings everybody together, because music is really an international language. No matter where you go – whether you go to the Middle East or you go to the Far East or countries that have a strained relationship between each other – and you see that there was a cultural exchange, it’s like a barometer; you feel that relations improve. Music is always the first thing that brings you a signal that relationships are starting to improve. It brings people together. When you go to a concert hall and you listen to a Beethoven symphony, you are no longer in a country that listens to this or that or [is dealing with whatever] problems. It binds everybody together.
Can you tell me about the program you will be performing in Calgary?
This one is a lot of fun for me. It’s something I worked on with [composer] John Williams and he arranged those pieces for me. They sound really good and his orchestrations are absolutely terrific. So I have a good time doing it and the audience also enjoys it, hopefully.
Is it hard for you to play the music from Schindler’s List, given the subject matter of the film?
I think about it as the piece. I try not to think about what it’s associated with. At the beginning, when I first saw the film and then I associated the music with what was happening with the film, it was a very emotional experience. But the more I play it, the more I concentrate on the music itself. Of course what happens in the movie is an organic part of the piece.
How do you reset yourself emotionally between those pieces?
Every one of them is associated with a particular film and it’s very interesting. For example, take the [music] from Robin Hood. Robin Hood was made into several movies. But this one was a very early one. Whenever I play this I always think about black and white movies. And of course the guy who wrote it, [Erich Wolfgang] Korngold, was one of those composers who came into Hollywood from Europe. So it’s more like European sound. You hear this old-fashioned kind of wonderful playing.
I can see why you have fun playing this music.
Well, it is fun. Each piece has its own flavour and I always find that I enjoy it so much. As I said, the arrangements that John Williams did are just so absolutely very, very orchestral, very lush and wonderful and I just love the way he composes for the movies. And he’s so talented – not only the composition, but you can also hear it in the arrangements, in a very old-fashioned way, in a very good sense of the word, which is the kind of music that I like. Think about two things that he did – Schindler’s List and E.T. When you hear the music from E.T., you can always see that scene, E.T. riding on a bicycle up in the air. (E.T. is not on the program with the CPO.)
I have to ask you: Are you flying Air Canada to Calgary?
(At this point, there is a silence that felt to me like it was about 10 minutes long. Then Perlman burst into laughter.)
I don’t know; I have to look. I think maybe. But don’t hold me to it. All I can tell you is that every time I fly Air Canada right now, I have about 500 people taking care of me. And I’m very happy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.