Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, British Palestine, where he first became interested in the violin after hearing a classical music performance on the radio. He studied at the Shulamit Conservatory and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv before moving to the USA to study at the Juilliard School with the great violin pedagogue, Ivan Galamian, and his assistant Dorothy DeLay. Soon after coming to New York, he was propelled into the international arena with an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Perlman contracted polio at the age of four. He made a good recovery, learning to walk with the use of crutches. Today, he generally uses crutches or an electric Amigo scooter for mobility and plays the violin while seated.
Itzhak Perlman made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1963. In 1964 he won the prestigious Leventritt Competition, which led to a burgeoning worldwide career. Since then, he has appeared with every major orchestra and in recitals and festivals around the world. In addition to an extensive recording career, he has made occasional guest appearances on American television, starting in the 1970’s on shows such as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street, as well as playing at a number of functions at the White House.
Although Itzhak Perlman has never been billed or marketed as a singer, he sang the role of "Un carceriere" ("a jailer") on a 1981 EMI recording of Puccini's Tosca which featured Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, and Renato Bruson, with James Levine conducting. He had earlier sung the role in an excerpt from the opera on a 1980 Pension Fund Benefit Concert telecast as part of the Live from Lincoln Center series, with Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi, and Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Perlman is a basso.
Itzhak Perlman has a long association with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and he has participated in many groundbreaking tours with this orchestra from his homeland. In November 1987 he joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for history-making concerts in Warsaw and Budapest, representing the first performances by this orchestra and soloist in Eastern bloc countries. He again made history as he joined the orchestra for its first visit to the Soviet Union in April/May 1990, and was cheered by audiences in Moscow and Leningrad who thronged to hear his recital and orchestral performances. This visit was captured on a PBS documentary entitled “Perlman in Russia” which won an Emmy. In December 1994 Perlman joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for their first visits to China and India.
While primarily a solo artist, Perlman has performed with a number of other notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Isaac Stern, and Yuri Temirkanov at the 150th anniversary celebration of Tchaikovsky in Leningrad in December 1990. He has also performed (and recorded) with good friend and fellow Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman on numerous occasions over the years. As well as playing and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and klezmer.
Perlman plays on the antique Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhin and considered to be one of the finest violins made during Stradivari's "golden period", as well as the Sauret Guarneri del Gesu of c.1743.
In recent years, Itzhak Perlman has also begun to conduct, taking the post of Principal Guest Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2005. He served as Music Advisor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra from 2002 to 2004. In November, 2007, the Westchester Philharmonic announced the appointment of Perlman as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. His first concert in these roles was on October 11, 2008, in an all-Beethoven program featuring pianist Leon Fleisher performing the Emperor Concerto. He has performed as conductor with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as well as at the Ravinia and OK Mozart festivals. Internationally, Perlman has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, London Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. This season (2010-2011) marks his third as Artistic Director of the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra. This season, he also conducts the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
A major presence in the performing arts on television, Itzhak Perlman has been honored with four Emmy Awards, most recently for the PBS documentary Fiddling for the Future, a film about the Perlman Music Program and his work as a teacher and conductor there. In July 2004, PBS aired a special entitled “Perlman in Shanghai”, which chronicled a historic and unforgettable visit of the Perlman Music Program to China, featuring interaction between American and Chinese students and culminating in a concert at the Shanghai Grand Theater and a performance with one thousand young violinists, led by Perlman and broadcast throughout China. Perlman’s third Emmy Award recognized his dedication to Klezmer music, as profiled in the 1995 PBS television special In the Fiddler's House, which was filmed in Poland and featured him performing with four of the world’s finest Klezmer bands.
Itzhak Perlman has entertained and enlightened millions of TV viewers of all ages on popular shows as diverse as The Late Show with David Letterman, Sesame Street, the PBS series The Frugal Gourmet, the Tonight show, the Grammy awards telecasts, and numerous Live From Lincoln Center broadcasts, including The Juilliard School: Celebrating 100 Years in April 2006, and PBS specials, including A Musical Toast and Mozart by the Masters, in which he served both as host and featured perfor. In April 2008, Perlman joined renowned chef Jacques Pépin on Artist’s Table to discuss the relationship between the culinary and musical arts. Perlman lent his voice as the narrator of Visions of Israel, the 20th program in WLIW New York’s acclaimed Visions series, which premiered on PBS in June 2008. In July 1994, Perlman hosted the U.S. broadcast of the Three Tenors, Encore! live from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Perlman played selections from the musical scores of the movies nominated for "Best Original Score" at the 73rd Academy Awards with Yo-Yo Ma In March 2006, a worldwide audience in the hundreds of millions saw Perlman perform live on the 78th Annual Academy Awards telecast, as he performed a medley from the five film scores nominated in the category of Best Original Score. One of Perlman’s proudest achievements is his collaboration with film score composer John Williams in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award winning film Schindler’s List, in which he performed the violin solos. He can also be heard as the violin soloist on the soundtrack of Zhang Yimou’s film Hero (music by Tan Dun) and Rob Marshall’s 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha (music by John Williams) , along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
In February 2008, Itzhak Perlman was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in the recording arts. His recordings regularly appear on the best-seller charts and have garnered fifteen Grammy Awards. His most recent releases include an all-W.A. Mozart recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker (EMI) with Perlman performing as both soloist and conductor and a recording for Deutsche Grammophon with Perlman conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Other recordings reveal Perlman’s devotion to education, including Concertos from my Childhood with the Juilliard Orchestra under Lawrence Foster (EMI) and Marita and her Heart’s Desire, composed and conducted by Bruce Adolphe (Telarc). Other recordings over the past decade have included a Grammy-nominated live recording with pianist Martha Argerich performing L.v. Beethoven and Franck Sonatas (EMI); “Cinema Serenade” featuring popular hits from movies with John Williams conducting (Sony); “A la Carte”, a recording of short violin pieces with orchestra (EMI) and “In the Fiddler’s House”, a celebration of Klezmer Music (EMI) that formed the basis of the PBS television special. In 2004, EMI released “The Perlman Edition”, a limited-edition 15-CD box set featuring many of his finest EMI recordings as well as newly compiled material and RCA Red Seal released a CD titled Perlman Rediscovered, which includes material recorded in 1965 by a young Itzhak Perlman.
Itzhak Perlman’s 2010-2011 season will take his performances as soloist to both new and familiar major centers throughout the world. In fall 2010, he will travel to Chile and Brazil, with orchestral performances in Santiago and recitals in Rio de Janeiro, Paulinia, and Sao Paulo. In October 2010, he will once again thrill audiences in Japan and South Korea with nine recitals in Tokyo, Osaka, Matsumoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Seoul with pianist and frequent collaborator, Rohan De Silva. He joins the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall for their opening subscription week under Music Director Alan Gilbert. Other highlights of his 2010-2011 season include a special performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to benefit the Rotary Foundation’s campaign to End Polio Now; a performance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; and recitals across North America including San Francisco, Los Angeles, West Palm Beach, and San Antonio. Perlman also appears with students and alumni from the Perlman Music Program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.
Over the past decade Itzhak Perlman has become more actively involved in educational activities. In 1975 he accepted a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. In 2003, he was named the holder of the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair in Violin Studies at the Juilliard School, succeeding his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. In 1995, the Perlmans founded the Perlman Music Program in Shelter Island, New York, offering gifted young string players a summer residential course in chamber music.He also taught at a community center in Be'er Sheba, Israel.
Numerous publications and institutions have paid tribute to Itzhak Perlman for the unique place he occupies in the artistic and humanitarian fabric of our times. Harvard, Yale, Brandeis, Roosevelt, Yeshiva and Hebrew universities are among the institutions which have awarded him honorary degrees. He was awarded an honorary doctorate and a centennial medal on the occasion of Juilliard’s 100th commencement ceremony in May 2005. President Reagan honored Perlman with a “Medal of Liberty” in 1986, and in December 2000, President Clinton awarded Perlman the “National Medal of Arts.” In December 2003 the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts granted Itzhak Perlman a Kennedy Center Honor celebrating his distinguished achievements and contributions to the cultural and educational life of our nation. May 7, 2007, he performed at the State Dinner for Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, hosted by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush in the East Room at the White House. In January 2009, Perlman was honored to take part in the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, premiering a piece written for the occasion by John Williams and performing with clarinetist Anthony McGill, pianist Gabriela Montero, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The quartet performed John Williams' Air and Simple Gifts. Perlman’s presence on stage, on camera and in personal appearances of all kinds speaks eloquently on behalf of the disabled, and his devotion to their cause is an integral part of Itzhak Perlman’s life.
Itzhak Perlman resides in New York City with his wife, Toby, also a classically trained violinist. They have five children: Noah, Navah Perlman (pianist), Leora, Rami (of the rock band, Something for Rockets) and Ariella. Perlman is distant cousin to Canadian comic/TV personality Howie Mandel.