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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Itzhak Perlman: A gifted violinist stuns the heart, stirs the soul

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Itzhak Perlman, left, and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgott

Emotions inevitably soar whenever Itzhak Perlman plays his violin. He is a uniquely gifted musician whose tender-hearted nature, uncanny understanding of most composers’ intentions for their work and sheer, dynamic, physical skill always combine to create a memorable auditory-sensual-musical experience.

His ability to stun the heart and stir the soul with the sounds he evokes from his instrument may be unparalleled among violinists in our generation.

When those sounds are the liturgical, folkloric, Yiddish melodies and tunes of the Ashkenazi Jewish world; when Perlman shares the stage with the renowned Yitzchak Meir Helfgott, chief cantor of Park East Synagogue in New York and the cantor’s piano accompanist Cantor Daniel Gildart; when Perlman and Helfgott are joined by the Klezmer Conservatory Band and the 17-piece Eternal Echoes Chamber Orchestra conducted by Russell Ger; and when the repertoire of selections is arranged by the scholar composer Hankus Netsky, the result is an emotional feast.

Indeed, such was the musical-emotional banquet last week at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. The two virtuosos, in a sense, reprised their performance of a year ago at the same venue. The musical offerings were not the same as last time, but the dreamy, sentimental evocations and electric charges of spirit and enthusiasm were.

From the very first instant Perlman “scootered” onto the stage, he held the audience rapt with his personality and the music that flowed from his violin. His solo virtuosity, his duets with Helfgott, his accompaniment of other performers and his playful banter with Netsky and the audience were the solid, colourful twine that held the concert together.

The large, appreciative audience was treated to a variety of some 14 offerings that included lively, high-spirited klezmer dance tunes, soulful Yiddish melodies and soaring cantorial piyutim (prayers). The adroit, smooth relationship between Perlman and Helfgott was never more poignantly demonstrated than during their performance of the two Yiddish songs A Dudele and A Yiddishe Mameh.

A Dudele, the theologically definitive monologue by the storied chassid, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, and A Yiddishe Mameh, the tearful reminiscence by an adult child, embodied the musical and emotional essence of the evening. In each song, Perlman and Helfgott achieved a combined musical splendour that built upon the characteristically minor key, lachrymose centre of Yiddish melodies, but rose far above to an impassioned affirmation of collective belonging and comfort.

The encore selection – Shlomo Carlebach’s rendition of the Passover Haggadah song Adir Hu – was a rousing, foot-stomping, sing-along delivery performed by the entire ensemble. 

As they left the auditorium, many audience members could be heard humming bits and pieces of the songs the masters had performed for them.

The concert, entitled Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul, was in support of Chai Lifeline Canada. It was the seventh annual Sing for the Children event on behalf of the organization, whose services are dedicated to helping families cope with the emotional, financial and other distresses that arise when a child is struck with serious illness.

Yummy Schacter, who along with his wife Shoshana, founded the annual Sing for the Children program seven years ago, described the Perlman-Helfgott concert as “very moving and uplifting. We achieved our double purpose of providing an evening of incredible entertainment as well as highlighting the important work of the organization. Every year, the event continues to grow and raises more awareness for Chai Lifeline.”

Craig Fried, director of development of Chai Lifeline Canada told The CJN the organization’s donors are its “heroes” since it is they who “afford us the opportunity to provide the critical support that our children and families need in their most vulnerable time.” Fried praised the organization’s supporters for “helping establish an organization that provides care with compassion and a high degree of support to achieve the best outcomes.” As an example, he noted that the organization recently received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for its after-school therapy program called Shining Stars, for children with physical disabilities or those who suffer from cancer. Two donors have since come forward to ensure the program’s long-term stability. 

The organization used the occasion to honour Dena and Daniel Gryfe and Bracha Silver for the respective and impressive examples of philanthropy and strength of character.

All of organization’s programs are free of charge to children and their families. For more information, call 647-430-5933 or visit www.ChaiLifelineCanada.org.

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