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Perlman plans 'Enchanted Evening' with symphony

| Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's gala is its biggest fundraising event of the season. But after conducting his first Pittsburgh Symphony gala last year, music director Manfred Honeck says, "It's not just to make money. It's also a celebration and a statement."

He says he was amazed at how many "friends and volunteers gave all their heart and 100 percent of energy into working on it. The gala brings us together for the joy of music, to hear a fantastic and famous soloist and also show that the Pittsburgh Symphony is one of the great orchestras in the world."

Violinist Itzhak Perlman returns to Heinz Hall on Wednesday evening, for the first time in six years, to join Honeck and the symphony in the annual gala. The program is called "The Enchanted Evening" and consists of Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to his opera "Der Freischutz," Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major.

Honeck admits to being disappointed that performances of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that were scheduled to open the subscription season in late September have been moved to June 2010 because of the G-20 economic summit. But he's really up for making music with Perlman.

"When I was a child and practicing my scales, Itzhak Perlman was my hero," says Honeck, who played in a string quartet before joining the Vienna Philharmonic as a violinist. The symphony's music director remembers hearing Perlman play at the Musikverein in Vienna with Pinchas Zukerman. He also listened avidly to Perlman's recordings -- along with ones by violinists David Oistrakh and Michael Rabin.

"What I loved so much in Perlman's playing was his Viennese attitude, particular in Kreisler pieces," the conductor says. "They were so musical, so charming and so funny. Technically fabulous, too, of course."

Perlman, 64 and famous for more than 40 years, says he really doesn't think about adulation. "All I think about is to do as much justice to the music as I can. I don't play music to be a hero. I teach to give of myself, to hopefully help younger people. The rest is nothing I can do anything about."

His professional life has three components these days -- playing violin, conducting and teaching -- but it's not a division, he says, because each activity complements the others and keeps music fresh for him. He's just completed eight and a half weeks of the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island, N.Y., a mainly summer educational program, and in October will begin his second season as artistic director of the Westchester Philharmonic in New York.

Perlman says he isn't sure if he was 15 or 16 when he first performed the Mozart concerto he'll play again Wednesday night.

"The older I get, the more I feel Mozart's greatness," he says. "If I were to compare how I played as a teenager and the way now, the difference is I hear better now. I like to call it X-ray hearing. I actually hear the phrases better, what's going on and where the phrase is going."

Although on the surface Mozart might seem easy, few musicians would agree.

"Mozart concertos for me -- although technically, on paper, they look pretty simple -- are very difficult," Perlman says. "The reason is, it really puts you on an exposed plane, where you have to treat the phrase in such a manner that there's no hiding. The Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos are the same. The phrases are pure. You really have to take care of the line."

Perlman says he's sometimes asked whether he'd do anything differently if he could live his life over. "The answer is no. I like how things have developed. Now, as I get older, it's a lot of fun to make music. I consider myself lucky to make a living at something so wonderful."

Additional Information:

'The Enchanted Evening'

With: Itzhak Perlman, violin; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Manfred Honeck, conductor

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Admission: $25-$105

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown

Details: 412-392-4900

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