Itzhak Perlman has refined the fine art of multitasking in the 21st Century. Wearing both a performer's and conductor's hat Sunday afternoon to an adoring audience at Jones Hall, Perlman showcased his virtuosity as the world's greatest violinist. And in a lesser known role, but an equally invigorating and entertaining one, he revealed his passion for conducting with a demonstrably visceral style.
Perlman took his place as performer and conductor, but not before humorously inspecting his violin for potential foul play. After the crowd's laughter died down, Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 filled the concert hall with a vital spirit all its own. A piece that required it to be played with skilled precision, the first part of the concerto, Allegro-Adagio-Allegro, exploded in the beginning with each performer pushing the piece's forte dynamic to its peak. A graceful contrast interrupted the bombast, and above the softened tones, Perlman magnified the solo's beauty. Violin Concerto No. 2 closed with the same vitality with which it began, galloping to its counterpoint until Perlman, with a charming grin, indicated to both the players and the audience the piece's end.
Watching Itzhak Perlman conduct is nearly as captivating as watching him play his violin. The expressive overture to Oberon is filled with moments that are peaceful, playful, and perilous. Within each emotive movement, Perlman's face matched all of them. His face and body language was playful, smiling at the orchestra while his hands moved across his body. When the fiery staccato notes pierced the air, his face changed shape, demonstrating the same seriousness the overture commands. Demanding and pushing the symphony's violin section, his efforts were rewarded with a grandeur and tone punctuating the overture's climax. Horns crusading in unison with the violins, timpanis and trumpets accenting the turning point with fierceness, the music shoots upward through the atmosphere and descends quickly before landing perfectly on point.
After a brief intermission, Perlman returned to the platform as the afternoon's conductor for Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major, also titled "The Great." Often mocked and satirized in popular culture for his exceptionally lengthy symphonies, Schubert did nothing to dispel this reputation for compositions of exceptional length with "The Great."
The symphony never was performed while Schubert was alive. Aware of the incredible scale of musical quality, Perlman treated the symphony with reverence. The first movement began with the familiar theme that is later expounded on during the finale. Perlman was both patient and powerful, frequently gesturing with joy. His face reflected Symphony No. 9's exuberance as he smiled throughout the scherzo. If it jumped, he jumped. If it danced, he danced. His conducting performance enraptured the audience as much as the music did. The finale used elements of the entire symphony. A melody reminiscent of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony emerged, thus tying everything together, ultimately returning to the symphony's central theme.
Even before the obligatory applause should have begun, the sold out crowd at Jones Hall rose to its feet, lauding Perlman with well-deserved, and well-earned, praise. The symphony, too, earned the celebratory applause and bravos from the enthralled audience. With a humble smile, Itzhak Perlman left the crowd edified and fulfilled. And with great hope, the city of Houston will lie in wait for his next triumphant return.
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