Ted Simons: Itzhak Perlman is known as the undisputed virtuoso of the violin. He's performed everywhere from Carnegie hall to sesame street, winning grammy awards and Kennedy center honors along the way. Itzhak Perlman will perform tomorrow night at the Mesa Arts Center. Tonight we welcome Itzhak Perlman to "Arizona Horizon." It is a pleasure having you here.
Itzahk Pearlman: Nice to be here, thank you.
Ted Simons: Relationship with Arizona. You have been here much?
Itzahk Pearlman: I have been here at least -- I was Googling who was conducting the symphony at that time. So I have been here at least probably the end of ,1979-1980 , something like that.
Ted Simons: Do you ever get -- I mean have you had a chance to see the Grand Canyon? Do you ever get out of the hotel room
Itzahk Pearlman: Hotel room.
Ted Simons: It is --
Itzahk Pearlman: You know, you don't have that much time. If you have a day, then you can do it. So but then instead of going to visit some wonderful scenic thing, you know, you go shopping. So, because, you know, I live in New York, so New York to go shopping in New York is much more of a hassle than to go outside --
Ted Simons: I bet it is. There is so much to talk about. When we get people on the program at the pinnacle of their profession, I'm fascinated by the idea of how they started and when they knew this was it. You especially. How old were you when you started on the violin?
Itzahk Pearlman: I wanted to start when I was 3 1/2, but everybody agreed that it was a little early. So, I started when I was five. And what made me choose the violin, the sound. The violin -- I heard violin sound on the radio, and on the radio and I said I wanted to do that.
Ted Simons: When you held the violin for the first time, I don't know if you can remember that far back.
Itzahk Pearlman: Yes.
Ted Simons: The texture, the tone --
Itzahk Pearlman: It was horrible. It sounded terrible. I threw it out. I was not -- I was not happy. Because what I heard on the radio, I could not produce right away.
Ted Simons: What kept you at it?
Itzahk Pearlman: I still wanted it, I mean, you know, but it was -- you know, actually that happened when I was three. But then when I was three, five, I started to get more into it.
Ted Simons: Did you instinct -- even at that age, did you instinctively know that you were good?
Itzahk Pearlman: No.
Ted Simons: That you would be good at one time.
Itzahk Pearlman: Not really, not really. You see what makes you continue is that when people around you say, you know, there is something there. But, you know, it's not always -- you know, if you have parents who don't know anything about music and they think that you're terrific, they're being delusional, and believe me, I see a lot of that stuff happening. I think my sort of strength was the sound, you know, a nice tone. So that already gives a little bit of encouragement to continue.
Ted Simons: Yes.
Itzahk Pearlman: And that's what happened.
Ted Simons: Now, as you continued, obviously practice, practice, and more practice. As a kid, as a child, did you feel isolated?
Itzahk Pearlman: No, I went to school with -- I had friends, and -- I just didn't like to practice.
Ted Simons: Oh, interesting.
Itzahk Pearlman: Hated it. Hated it. Oh, yes, you know. And my parents were not musicians. So, they couldn't really practice with me. So, all they would say was why aren't you practicing? That is all it is. You know, so I would -- in other words, I had to fill the air with sound, you know. There was no sound in the air, you're not practicing. That was my practice career.
Ted Simons: When did practice not become a chore or when did practice turn around and become oh, I can't wait to practice?
Itzahk Pearlman: Oh, never.
Ted Simons: Never happened?
Itzahk Pearlman: No, never. But it became a reality that you need to. You know. But, you know, right now, it is so funny. My students, I always lectured them on how to practice. And it is not always the amount of time, you know, because kids -- there are some kids that would say, if I put in six, seven hours a day, I'll be good. That is not necessarily the case. You know, it is the quality of practicing, you know, and the goal. Why are you practicing? For what purpose? So on. That is what you have to know about it. And a lot of young kids don't know that. And sometimes practicing with a parent is helpful, sometimes.
Ted Simons: Do you see yourself in some of these kids?
Itzahk Pearlman: Yeah, sometimes.
Ted Simons: You see it.
Itzahk Pearlman: Yeah.
Ted Simons: Is it difficult for someone of your talent, accomplishment, career, to teach?
Itzahk Pearlman: Oh, no. Teaching is great. Teaching is wonderful. Teaching -- teaching -- there is nothing better than teaching for a performing artist, because if you teach others, you teach yourself.
Ted Simons: How so? Explain.
Itzahk Pearlman: Because teaching involves listening. So, one of the bad things that can happen when you play yourself is that you're not quite hearing what goes on. But if you are constantly involved with listening to other people, then you also listen to yourself. And, so, when I say to somebody, you know, something about this phrase and not -- as I'm playing, I have to do this phrase just like that. So I'm my own teacher. Teaching is -- and I always say to my students, I say, don't ever miss an opportunity. If you have an opportunity to teach on any level, do it. Because it just helps yourself.
Ted Simons: You know, the reason I ask, because the magic Johnsons, athletes of the world, Larry birds, Michael Jordans, they're so frustrated when they try to coach and teach because others can't do what they do.
Itzahk Pearlman: Yeah, that's true. That's a very good point. I try -- I don't try to teach, you know, PYROTECHNICS. I teach the kids to listen, listen to them self. I had three teachers in my student career, shall we say. Two were very old fashioned. They would say do this, and that's it. And then I had a teacher who said to me, you know, what do you think of that? What do you think of this? That is the way I teach. I like to involve the students in the process so that actually when they solve something, it's their own. It is not like somebody told me to do it and I'm doing it without knowing why I'm doing it. But teaching is a lot of -- I mean I have certain things that I can feel that other kids, you know, that students feel, that -- so, in other words, I know what they feel like. I know when something is difficult, I know it. Because I do it myself. So, for me teaching is a wonderful experience.
Ted Simons: Back when you were younger, did I read this correctly, you appeared on the ed Sullivan show a couple of times?
Itzahk Pearlman: Six times.
Ted Simons: Six times.
Itzahk Pearlman: Yes, three times when I was 13 and three times when I was 8 .
Ted Simons: One of those times, rolling stones debut on America -- was that true?
Itzahk Pearlman: I don't remember.
Ted Simons: I read that somewhere.
Itzahk Pearlman: I don't remember.
Ted Simons: The hoopla didn't quite get back to your dressing room.
Itzahk Pearlman: That show was an incredible array of all sorts of stuff, you know, I mean. I remember they used to have elephants. They used to have monkeys. They used to have a guy -- I don't know if you remember, his name was peg leg Bates. He was a dancer and he had one leg -- one wooden leg. And I was on his show. I was on the same show that he was on. And I -- and so since then I call that particular show the Ed Sullivan hospital show, because it had show with --
Ted Simons: I remember spinning plates.
Itzahk Pearlman: Spinning plates, popular singers and comedians. It was an array of everything.
Ted Simons: Teaching, performing, conducting. Talk to us about what it takes to be a good conductor and why that interests you?
Itzahk Pearlman: Oh, my goodness. Well, I'll tell you. Conducting never interested me because I felt that I didn't want to do it. Because I felt that I was doing a good job playing the violin. Why do something else? But then what happened was my wife started a music program about twenty years ago. With very talented young string players. And one of the things that she did in the program was to make a, you know, to organize a string orchestra. And she said to me, would you coach them? So, coaching was really like a code word for conducting. But I didn't know it at that time. So I did use a -- didn't use a baton, I used a pencil. If you use a pencil, that means you are a little more educated. You are not really thinking of conducting. But anyway, low and behold, I got nice results from the kids. Everybody said why don't you try it with professional musicians, if you get good sound from students? And that is how it started. It's very exciting. What makes a good conductor? A big mystery. It is a rapport with the players of the orchestra. You know, I always like to say that if you put four conductors in front of an orchestra and they each give a down beat, you will hear different sounds from the orchestra, by just the down beat of an individual. I'm not saying one is bad or one is good, I'm saying different.
Ted Simons: Up there conducting, I mean, when you're up there, I mean, how does it feel? Is there a synergy going on to where you know that every movement there is a reaction to every action?
Itzahk Pearlman: Every movement there is a reaction. It is incredible, you know. I have been very lucky to conduct some wonderful, wonderful world-class fantastic orchestras, and they can really play anything, you know, and, you know, even if you just beat, they'll play.
Ted Simons: Yes.
Itzahk Pearlman: But if you just beat, you will hear a difference than if you really are involved and showing them what you think about the music. So, if you just go like that and you -- you coast, the minute you coast, everybody knows it. It is the funniest thing.
Ted Simons: Like its own being --
Itzahk Pearlman: Absolutely. So, it is something, as you said synergy, there is something between you and the players. And when they see what's on your face and watching your beat, they will play differently.
Ted Simons: Kind of an odd question here, but as far as orchestras are concerned, symphonies performing groups, are there groups out there that are talented but don't seem to follow all that well? Are there those that maybe don't have quite the same talent, but the minute you move, they respond?
Itzahk Pearlman: No, orchestras will follow you. If -- if you're -- if you know what you're doing, if you have the, you know, the energy and the finesse of conducting, well, that's -- I'm just talking about keeping traffic going now. I'm not talking about music. Music is a totally different thing. Music, the orchestra will feel that when it comes from the podium. Some orchestras will feel better than others. Some are more quote, musical. Some orchestras are more followers. When you are a musical, you look at the conductor and you also add your own musicality. Or if the conductor gives you something, you follow the conductors. There are some orchestras that maybe do not do it on their own. They have to have the conductor tell them or show them what to do.
Ted Simons: Favorite piece of music to conduct.
Itzahk Pearlman: Oh, very difficult question to answer. I would say that probably not favorite, but one favorite, I would say Beethoven symphony, dramatic intensity, as far as the rhythm.
Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting. Favorite piece of music to play?
Itzahk Pearlman: The piece that I'm playing right now has to be my favorite piece. It cannot be like oh, I'm playing this, but I really like that one better. It has to be otherwise I'm not going to play it. I have to be committed. I have got to be committed with every note to a piece. I've got to.
Ted Simons: When you're home on the upper west side, favorite piece of music to listen to?
Itzahk Pearlman: This is bad. This is really bad. Favorite -- well, I, again, I listen to two things. I listen to 50's oldies on the radio. Yes. And then I listen to classical, I love to listen to singers singing, you know, leaders and stuff like that. But, you know, I would say between classical and 50s, these are my two things that I would put a radio station on.
Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting. For someone who wants to get into classical music --
Itzahk Pearlman: Yes, good luck.
Ted Simons: Well, they just -- they hear the music and they go I know people appreciate this. I know this is good. I know that there is something there, but I can't find it. What advice -- for someone going to the Mesa Arts Center tomorrow?
Itzahk Pearlman: Keep listening. Keep listening. You have to listen. You can't say I'm trying it once finished. You have to listen to it. It is like an acquired taste. You go to the mesa arts and see what the program is, try to get a recording or go on YouTube and see if you can get a recording of the piece that is about to be -- and then listen to it two, three times. Hey, I know that piece. I've heard that before. You know, you always have to give it a chance. You just -- don't be so critical by saying, oh, I heard it five minutes, I don't like it, goodbye. It is like fine wine. First time you drink fine wine, you can't tell that it -- I mean, you have to have a --
Ted Simons: Sure.
Itzahk Pearlman: It doesn't taste like -- it is not sweet, so what is that? You have to develop taste for it. Same thing for classical music.
Ted Simons: You have to put the effort in in other words.
Itzahk Pearlman: Yes, parents' responsibilities, and public television responsibility, television, to basically expose us to more of that. The more we are exposed to it, the more familiar we become. It is very simple. It is not a big deal.
Ted Simons: Itzhak Perlman, it is a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for joining us and good luck tomorrow night.
Itzahk Pearlman: Thank you so very much.