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Itzhak Perlman: Charting A Charismatic Career

Itzhak Perlman, who turns 70 on Monday, has been playing the violin for 67 years.

Itzhak Perlman, who turns 70 on Monday, has been playing the violin for 67 years. Don Hunstein/Warner Classics hide caption

toggle caption Don Hunstein/Warner Classics

When Itzhak Perlman was three years old, he asked his parents for a violin because he heard one on the radio. A year later he contracted polio, leaving his legs paralyzed but his determination undaunted.

Americans first became aware of the young Tel Aviv native when he performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958 at age 13. His teacher at Juilliard, Dorothy DeLay, knew that Perlman stood out. He was "on a kind of creative high that has never let up," she said.

It wasn't long before Perlman's elegant, luminous tone and affable personality propelled him to the top. He's won 16 Grammys, three Emmys and the National Medal of Arts.

Today Perlman turns 70. To celebrate, we've collected videos that trace the arc of a singular career.

Milestones in an exceptional career

  • 1964: A Return to "The Ed Sullivan Show"

    Perlman was only 13 when he first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Afterward, the young violinist, who had never travelled outside of Israel, joined Sullivan's Caravan of Stars on a two-month tour of the U.S. He returned to Sullivan's show in 1964 to play the finale of Henryk Wieniawski's Second Violin Concerto. Much of Perlman's hallmark sound is already in full bloom: the buttery, full-bodied tone, effortless technique and his ability to communicate.

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  • 1965: Debut Recording

    When it came time for the 19-year-old violinist to record his first album, Perlman chose the repertoire as if he were giving a recital — a mix of short pieces, virtuoso material and a pair of Baroque sonatas. But someone at RCA had a different idea for a debut disc and the recordings were shelved, only to be formally released almost 40 years later.

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  • 1978: Alban Berg Concerto

    Perlman has recorded most of the standard repertoire (some concertos more than once), but he didn't forget modern and contemporary composers. His sumptuous recording of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, from 1978 with Seiji Ozawa leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is considered one of Perlman's finest hours on disc. Critic Ted Libbey wrote: "This is the violinist at his most commanding, performing in a way that will leave future generations agog."

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  • 1980: Sesame Street

    Perlman was a natural at communicating his love for music, whether in the concert hall or playing a duet with a Muppet named Telly on Sesame Street.

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  • 1995: "In the Fiddler's House"

    Perlman heard klezmer music on the radio growing up in Israel. In 1995, he collaborated with several klezmer bands to record In the Fiddler's House, a tribute to what he calls "my music." Here he joins the Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra in "Flatbush Waltz," written by Statman in 1976. Perlman again returned to his Jewish roots in 2012 with the album Eternal Echoes, made with cantor Yitzchak Helfgot.

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  • 2010: The Perlman Music Program

    Perlman lives by the Yiddish proverb that says if the world is to be saved it will be up to the children. Some 20 years ago, with his wife, Toby Perlman (also a violinist), he created the Perlman Music Program, now based on Shelter Island. The Perlmans, along with a faculty of instructors, teach gifted young string players in summer camps and through mentoring programs.

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  • Perlman the Conductor

    Over the last 15 years or so, Perlman has turned to conducting, and led many of the world's top orchestras. He conducted the St. Louis Symphony frequently while serving as the orchestra's music advisor from 2002 to 2004, and held the post of principal guest conductor of the Detroit Symphony from 2001 to 2005.

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