Even in a city like Nashville, where the level of talent on hand requires a redefinition of musical excellence, there are moments when something of magnificence sails above and beyond even an elevated norm like Nashville’s. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center hosted one of those experiences on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, when world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman appeared in recital with pianist Rohan De Silva.
Perlman and De Silva performed for more than 90 minutes, offering compositions by names both familiar and lesser-known, with many highlights appearing late in the concert, after three programmed selections by Beethoven, Franck and Stravinsky were presented. Perlman, whose fame has spread farther than perhaps any other living performer from the classical realm, received a nearly swooning response from the audience when he reprised his recorded performance of John Williams’ “Theme From Schindler’s List” and proceeded to display breathtaking technique in three other short pieces. While it goes without saying that the two musicians played flawlessly, there is more than mere technical perfection to be considered when a master violinist such as Perlman lifts his bow. Perlman’s mastery was used in service of producing performances with deep and profound expression, augmented by very funny comments that brought to mind the late pianist and humorist Victor Borge. “This is [the composer’s work] number five. That means he wrote other pieces.”
Without the benefit of even a single microphone, some of Perlman’s comments were a bit difficult to hear, but his gentle good humor and refreshingly casual attitude in the midst of “serious music” easily traveled to the seats in the rear of the Schermerhorn. It bears additional mention and consideration that this was a performance done without a microphone—what might be called “kickin’ it old-school” if you sidestep standard conservatory terminology. Unless you’re listening to a street musician, it’s a rare opportunity indeed in the 21st century to hear music performed in a strictly acoustic context. While it takes typical ears some time to adjust (particularly those attached to heads seated more than halfway back from the stage), the result was (for this listener, at least) the need to “lean in” and experience the performance with an intention usually not necessary—if even thought about in the first place.
The effect of the world’s finest living violinist, playing one of the world’s most magnificent Stradivarius violins inside one of the world’s most acoustically extraordinary venues is difficult, if not impossible, to adequately convey. In a city routinely loaded with “you had to be there” moments, an afternoon of sublime perfection such as this is one to remember. Excellence is its own particular language, and none have spoken it any more beautifully and eloquently in the Music City than Itzhak Perlman.