Itzhak Perlman wasn’t looking for another career until his wife, Toby, made a request.
“My wife started a summer music program [the Perlman Music Program] — we’re having our 20th anniversary, and a string orchestra was included,” Perlman said. “She asked me to coach, which became conducting. It was the first time I began to consider myself as a conductor.”
Perlman will be the soloist and conductor Aug. 20 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
He’d had conducting classes at The Juilliard School where he’d studied violin but said he was somewhat dubious about his stick skills even though the comments after the camp orchestra’s first concert were fairly approving.
“So I began to ask myself: do I want to do it or not or even if I could do it,” Perlman said. “Should I consider sticking to just doing violin — I was having a successful career.”
Perlman decided to take the plunge.
“My first orchestra was the Israel Philharmonic. I’d played with them so many times over the years that I felt if I was going to fall on my face, then let it be with people I know. And it was OK,” he said laughing.
It wasn’t long before the word was out and he began conducting major orchestras around the world, including the Philadelphia.
“I’ve been extremely lucky. Conducting is an unbelievable experience and so pleasurable,” he said. “What I’ve learned as a conductor is that it’s not true that they have the power. If musicians respect what you do, then they will do well.”
Perlman is especially looking forward to his dual role on Wednesday with the orchestra during which he will play Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and conduct Weber’s “Overture to Oberon” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.
“They are such a marvelous orchestra. Their sound is legendary,” he said. “I’m a great fan of tone or sound. For me, tone is very important, it’s what attracts me. And their tone is a lush, amazing sound.”
He chose the program, especially the Bach, whose works are finding a resurgence at orchestral concerts these days, because he gets the greatest pleasure out of hearing the many layers to Bach’s music. The Weber is light and almost plays itself and Brahms is a favorite composer.
“I love whatever he wrote, symphony or concerto. My role is to put a little bit of a stamp [on the performance]. What do I tell them that is a little different? What will make it better especially when it’s a really great piece?” Perlman said. “The first thing I’ll do is get that sound going. Then I need to shape the piece. But I love to be spontaneous. I don’t like to make plans. We’ll see.”
And behind the gig is the location.
“My first experience [at SPAC] was in the 1960s as a listener to hear the orchestra under Eugene Ormandy with [pianist] Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s ‘Choral Fantasy.’ I was in the audience,” Perlman said. “Saratoga for me is amazing.”