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Itzhak Perlman: I'm Not On The Stage To Walk, I'm On It To Play


And earlier this week, we heard from one of the world's most celebrated classical musicians. Itzhak Perlman was just 13 when he performed on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1958. And he says he's still getting better.

ITZHAK PERLMAN: It's almost like an X-ray listening device that I have where I can actually say, I'm going to express this phrase in a particular way.


PERLMAN: It's like an illumination that I feel when I play a particular phrase. To simplify it, I hear better.


MONTAGNE: This morning, we're going to focus on a different aspect of Itzhak Perlman's life. When he was 4 years old, he contracted polio. He has used crutches ever since. And he told our Steve Inskeep that fact does not really have anything to do with his performances.

PERLMAN: Right now I don't walk on stage unless I'm playing with a orchestra. But when I play a recital, I'm sort of on a scooter, and I just scoot very quickly on stage, and they're saying, wow, look at this. He's so fast. But that I don't think is a problem. I can't walk very well, but I'm not onstage to do walking. I'm on the stage to play.



We were pondering whether it made any difference to you that a soloist would typically stand, but of course, you do not.

PERLMAN: Believe me. I can tell you that many soloists probably wish they could sit.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

PERLMAN: You have to stand there for, like, two hours and play a recital, you know. Maybe somebody has flat feet or something, I don't know. When you think about violinists, the majority playing sit down.

INSKEEP: Let me challenge you to answer what's surely an unanswerable question. Would you have been the same musician that you are had you not been stricken with polio at a very young age?

PERLMAN: I think yes. You know, a lot of people like to think that polio was a inspiration in what I do. I think that music has to do with what kind of passion do you have.


PERLMAN: If I was destined to be a musician, it would have happened.

INSKEEP: Oh, I wondered about it a little differently. I wondered if it was possible that polio limited some of your options and therefore made it more likely that you would grab this option.

PERLMAN: That could be, but that had to do probably with my parents. You know, maybe they felt that it would be a very good thing for me to do something in music because soccer was out of the question or basketball.

INSKEEP: Did they ever have that conversation with you, or was that just kind of implied?

PERLMAN: No, no, no, it was very natural. There was no question about, oh, you can't do this. You have to do that. It was like, you decide to be a musician, you have to put in the time.


INSKEEP: I'm impressed to hear this story because I think you're telling me that people expected no less of you because you couldn't walk.

PERLMAN: Well, I don't know if that's the case, you know, because when it was time to have a career, then people had questions. They had to prove that the quality of what I had to offer was of the highest level.


INSKEEP: I've been backstage at a few performance halls. Some of them are quite old. They have lots of steps. Have you ever arrived at a performance and had great difficulty just getting where you needed to go?

PERLMAN: Absolutely. You know, I know all the garbage elevators and a lot of halls. They're a lot of fun (laughter).

INSKEEP: You see everything a little differently than anybody else who performs there, I guess.

PERLMAN: What upsets me is that when I go into a place where it's fairly new and then there's a problem. But not that - a lot of people say, oh, this is not accessible because it's old. Oh, really? That means that in olden days, there were no people with disabilities. It's silly. The other day, I went to a very famous hotel here in New York, and it was disgusting. I went to a wedding, and I couldn't get to the wedding because there was stairs, so I had to go through the kitchen. And there was steps all over the place.

INSKEEP: In that situation, do you call attention?

PERLMAN: I complain.

INSKEEP: I mean, you're Itzhak Perlman. They listen to you, I would think.

PERLMAN: At the moment, yes.


MONTAGNE: Our Steve Inskeep talking with the violinist Itzhak Perlman. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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