Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2001]
Article from the Houston Chronicle:
On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.
To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an unforgettable sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.
By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.
But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap - it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.
People who were there that night thought to themselves: "We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage — to either find another violin or else find another string for this one."
But he didn't. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head.
At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before. When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.
He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."
What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the way of life - not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings. So he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.
So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.
Origins: The piece quoted above did indeed appear in The Houston Chronicle (on
If Itzhak Perlman had performed at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City's Lincoln Center (not to be confused with Columbia University's Avery Hall, also in New York City) on
The most gripping performance of the evening was an account of Bartok's Sonata
Itzhak Perlman played at Avery Fisher Hall a few other times in 1995, but none of the reviews of those performances included any mention of his finishing on three strings either. (In fact, we were unable to locate any review of an Itzhak Perlman concert
Carrying on after losing a string without interrupting the performance is certainly within the capabilities of a world-class violinist: In 1986, Japanese wunderkind violinist Midori, then a mere 14-year-old, drew headlines for her appearance at Massachusetts' Tanglewood Festival when she finished a concerto performance despite twice breaking strings on her instrument. Still, it isn't so commonplace an occurrence that we'd expect a reviewer to take no note of it at all. And while a musician partway through a lengthy piece might well choose to continue under less-than-ideal conditions rather than interrupt the flow of the performance, we can't see a musician only a few bars into the first piece of the evening opting to undertake an entire performance with a broken instrument.
This same anecdote appears in the 1999 book When Life Hurts: A Personal Journey from Adversity to Renewal, by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, in somewhat shorter form:
Perlman was scheduled to play a difficult, challenging violin concerto. In the middle of the performance one of the strings on his violin snapped with a rifle-like popping noise that filled the entire auditorium. The orchestra immediately stopped playing and the audience held its collective breath. The assumption was he would have to put on his braces, pick up his crutches, and leave the stage. Either that or someone would have to come out with another string or replace the violin. After a brief pause, Perlman set his violin under his chin and signaled to the conductor to begin.
One person in the audience reported what happened: "I know it is impossible to play a violin concerto with only three strings. I know that and so do you, but that night, Isaac Perlman refused to know it. You could see him modulating, changing, and recomposing in his head. At one point it sounded as if he were
Last updated: 16 May 2007
Barron, James. "The Biggest Heart If Not the Best." The New York Times. 19 November 1995 (p. B33). Dosick, Wayne. When Life Hurts: A Personal Journey from Adversity to Renewal. Ulysses Press, 1999. ISBN 1-569-75184-6. Herman, Kenneth. "Young Violinist's Career Continues to Gain Acclaim." Los Angeles Times. 14 March 1992 (p. F2). Kozinn, Allan. "In Performance; Classical Music." The New York Times. 22 November 1995 (p. C16). Morris, Bob. "Double Duty, Royal Couple And Double Meanings." The New York Times. 4 June 1995 (p. A50). Riemer, Jack. "Perlman Makes His Music - The Hard Way." The Houston Chronicle. 10 February 2001 (p. E8). Tommasini, Anthony. "A Mendelssohn Warhorse Gets the Perlman Treatment." The New York Times. 5 August 1995 (p. A17).