You can feel the excitement in a room when witnessing the performance of an icon. With over 100 years of combined experience bringing classical music’s greatest pieces to life, Itzhak Perlman on violin and Emanuel Ax on piano were the perfect match-up for the Washington Performing Arts Stars Series. With every note, they brought a presence that can only be earned through decades of unwavering commitment and perfected through a dedication able to transcend the countless hurdles of classical musicianship.
For Perlman and his challenges in particular, I have always admired his adaptive determination to continue to find ways to play the music he loves, even as his body refuses to cooperate with the demands of being a violinist. Afflicted with polio at the age of four, every milestone of his career shows that he has fought to be heard within the classical music world; a world that now calls him a legend. Even now as ever advancing age takes its toll on his ability to move or support the violin, he has found ways to adjust and continue to play. It’s that sort of tenacity that has made him world-renowned and after tonight, after witnessing his joyful celebration of his life’s work, I am honored to say with first hand sincerity that there is no one like him.
Partnering with Ax on this latest concert tour following the release of their 2015 CD, Fauré & Strauss Violin Sonatas, the evening at The Kennedy Center wonderfully crescendoed from Wolfgang Mozart’s “Sonata in C Major for Piano and Violin, K 296,” to Gabriel Fauré’s “Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 13,” to finally the “Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18” by Richard Strauss. Not a word was spoken between the pieces but still you could see the way these two musicians complimented, supported, and played off of one another. Ax, for example, patiently waited for a sign from Perlman before continuing on to each new movement.
It wasn’t until a set of three encore movements that we heard Perlman speak. After an animated stage discussion with Ax (one that reminded me of the gaggle of everyone’s favorite uncles during the holidays), he would announce each of the pieces in a softly joking, quietly accented voice. The first of the encores was “Fantasie” by Robert Schumann and while explaining that this particular arrangement was for piano, clarinet, and maybe a cello, Perlman declared that he would be playing the violin “ad libitum.”
For me these three were easily my favorites of the evening and in them Perlman’s distinct use of staccato really shone. The lilted syncopation of “Schön Rosmarin” by Fritz Kreisler made me think of the sound one makes when laughing and each of the hundred of faces that played across Perlman’s were clear windows in to his passion.
For Ax, his expression moved through his shoulders more than any part of his perpetually moving frame. They hunched with concentration, leaning into each fortissimo scale; but they also bounced along with the light dance that wove its way through Fauré’s “Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 13” in the first act and during Kreisler’s “Liebesfreud” in the final encore.
As highlighted during the evening’s introduction by the Washington Performing Arts, these gentlemen have graced the Kennedy Center with 60 performances in its 49 years. They truly are the grandfathers of the classical music and strive through every note of every performance, master class, and workshop to ensure the future of the arts for generations to come. Thank you to them both.
Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax played for one night only on May 10, 2016 at Washington Performing Arts performing at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. For future WPAS events, go to their calendar of events.For future performances and information at The Kennedy Center: call (202) 467-4600/(800) 444-1324, or check out the Kennedy Center’s calendar of events.