Itzhak Perlman (Hebrew: יצחק פרלמן; born August 31, 1945) is an Israeli-American violinist, conductor, and pedagogue. Over the course of his career, Perlman has performed worldwide, and throughout the United States, in venues that have included a State Dinner at the White House honoring Queen Elizabeth II, and a Presidential Inauguration, and he has conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Westchester Philharmonic.
In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945, then British Mandate of Palestine, now Israel. His parents, Chaim and Shoshana Perlman, were natives of Poland and had independently immigrated to Palestine in the mid-1930s before they met and later married.
Perlman first became interested in the violin after hearing a classical music performance on the radio. At the age of three, he was denied admission to the Shulamit Conservatory for being too small to hold a violin. He instead taught himself how to play the instrument using a toy fiddle until he was old enough to study with Rivka Goldgart at the Shulamit Conservatory and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, where he gave his first recital at age 10, before moving to the United States to study at the Juilliard School with the violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian and his assistant Dorothy DeLay.
Perlman contracted polio at age four. He made a good recovery, learning to walk with crutches. Today, he uses crutches or an electric Amigo scooter for mobility and plays the violin while seated.
Perlman was introduced to the wider American public when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1958, and again in 1964, on the same show with the Rolling Stones. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and won the Leventritt Competition in 1964. Soon afterward, he began to tour widely. In addition to an extensive recording and performance career, he has continued to make guest appearances on American television shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street as well as playing at a number of functions at the White House.
Although he has never been billed or marketed as a singer, he sang the role of "Un carceriere" ("a jailer") on a 1981 EMI recording of Puccini's "Tosca" that featured Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, and Renato Bruson, with James Levine conducting. He had earlier sung the role in an excerpt from the opera on a 1980 Pension Fund Benefit Concert telecast as part of the Live from Lincoln Center series with Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic.
On July 5, 1986, he performed on the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised live on ABC Television in the United States. The orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performed in Central Park.
In 1987, he joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) for their concerts in Warsaw and Budapest as well as other cities in Eastern bloc countries. He toured with the IPO in the spring of 1990 for its first-ever performance in the Soviet Union, with concerts in Moscow and Leningrad, and toured with the IPO again in 1994, performing in China and India.
In 2015 on a classical music program entitled The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center produced by WQXR in New York City, it was revealed that Perlman performed the violin solo on the 1989 Billy Joel song The Downeaster Alexa. He was uncredited on the song credits.
While primarily a solo artist, Perlman has performed with a number of other notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Isaac Stern, and Yuri Temirkanov at the 150th anniversary celebration of Tchaikovsky in Leningrad in December 1990. He has also performed (and recorded) with good friend and fellow Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman on numerous occasions over the years.
As well as playing and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and in addition, klezmer. Perlman has been a soloist for a number of film scores such as the theme of the 1993 film Schindler's List by John Williams, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. More recently, he was the violin soloist for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Perlman played selections from the musical scores of the movies nominated for "Best Original Score" at the 73rd Academy Awards with Yo-Yo Ma and at the 78th Academy Awards.
Perlman played at the state dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II on May 7, 2007, in the East Room at the White House.
He performed John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts" at the 2009 inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama along with Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet). While the quartet did play live, the music played simultaneously over speakers and on television was a recording made two days prior due to concerns over the cold weather damaging the instruments. Perlman was quoted as saying: "It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way."
In 1975, Perlman accepted a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. In 2003, Mr. Perlman was named the holder of the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at the Juilliard School, succeeding his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. Perlman teaches at the Juilliard School for the pre-college program. He also currently teaches students one-on-one at the Perlman Music Program on Long Island, NY, rarely holding master classes. He also taught at a community center in Be'er Sheba, Israel, Perlman generously shares his knowledge with the public outside of formal teaching positions as well. On March 19, 2011, for example, prior to his performance at the Lila Cockrell Theater in downtown San Antonio, TX, Itzhak Perlman met with music lovers of all ages, including local youth orchestras, for a free question-and-answer session moderated by Dr. Eugene Dowdy, associate professor and head of orchestral studies at UT San Antonio. During the teaching session, at Antonio Strad Violin, Perlman educated both children and adults with his answers to questions on technique and playing fitness and his unique tales of performers today.
The Perlman Music Program
The Perlman music program, founded in 1995 by Toby Perlman and Suki Sandler, started as a summer camp for exceptional string musicians between the ages of 11 and 18. Over time, it expanded to a year-long program. Students have the chance to have Itzhak Perlman himself coach them before they play at venues such as the Sutton Place Synagogue and public schools. By introducing students to each other and requiring them to practice together, the program strives to have musicians who would otherwise practice alone develop a network of friends and colleagues. Rather than remain isolated, participants in the program find an area where they belong.
In recent years, Perlman has begun to conduct, taking the post of principal guest conductor at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He served as music advisor to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra from 2002 to 2004. In November 2007, the Westchester Philharmonic announced the appointment of Perlman as artistic director and principal conductor. His first concert in these roles was on October 11, 2008, in an all-Beethoven program featuring pianist Leon Fleisher performing the Emperor Concerto.
Perlman plays the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhin and considered one of the finest violins made during Stradivari's "golden period." Perlman also plays the Guarneri del Gesu 1743 'Sauret'  and the Carlo Bergonzi 1740 'ex-Kreisler'.
Perlman resides in New York City with his wife, Toby, also a classically trained violinist. They have five children: Noah, Navah, Leora, Rami and Ariella. Perlman is a distant cousin of Canadian comic/TV personality Howie Mandel.