He came to play, and that he did Saturday night. Renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman commanded the sold-out Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center concert stage with his mesmerizing arco and pizzicato finger dancing along with his emotive facial expressions.
Accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva, the snow-headed Perlman performed in segments of Schnittke, Beethoven, and Dvorak. Musicologist Warren Woodruff shared during intermission, “I know Beethoven like the back of my hand, and his performance was monumental, expansive and breathtaking!”
After intermission, Max Leventhal, board president of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, presented Perlman with the AJFF Icon Award. A personalized video tribute to Perlman was shown full screen with touching and light-hearted congratulations from film director Steven Spielberg and composers John Williams and Zubin Mehta. Spielberg expressed that Perlman was “the subatomic connection to emotive Jewish music and the soul of Israel.” Light jabs were made to Perlman’s inclination to tell corny jokes and have so much audience adulation that “we’d laugh at anything he said.”
At the close of his prepared segment, Perlman chatted with the audience and took out 1,200 sheets of songs he might encore, quipping he would “avoid anything he has played in Atlanta since 1912.” He did add more numbers, including his most famous “Schindler’s List” movie score.
Some of us, perhaps many, are not technically knowledgeable about classical music, but we knew that we had witnessed the greatest violin virtuoso of our time.
The Back Story
The concert was not without drama. The front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Feb. 16 ran a story with the headline, “Northside residents frustrated over scarce tickets at city venue.” The basis of the story was that Sandy Springs officials faced criticism that sponsors were favored over taxpayers with the ticket allotment being held back before opening to the general public. The tickets, ranging from $65 to $100, sold out in less than an hour. The needs of the AJFF and Perlman’s unavailability for a second performance dictated some limits. Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun explained,” We did everything in the best interest of the community. To get an artist of Perlman’s caliber to come here, … that’s not such a bad move.” She committed to continue to experiment to find the right fit and formula for the relatively new facility.
The presenting sponsor was the Sandy Springs Society, which envisioned and executed the concert to coincide with its 30th anniversary. Sue Winner, the first Jewish president of the Society, was the powerhouse who made it happen. Last year, Winner was considering her presidency and how to celebrate the anniversary. She was inspired while watching “Itzhak,” a documentary and Atlanta premiere at the AJFF, with her husband. “The film was introduced by an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra commentator who stated that whenever Perlman came to Atlanta, and no matter how many performances he offered, tickets typically sold out in two hours or less. As the film began, I was mesmerized by the story. We had seen Mr. Perlman at the Fox Theatre years ago, and even though I am totally without musical ability, I remembered how much I enjoyed the performance.
“About halfway through the film, I gave my husband an elbow punch, ‘That’s what I want to do for the 30th anniversary, bring Perlman to the new Performing Arts Center.’ My husband Jon’s response was, ‘It’s good to want, but this is one of those things you won’t get.’ That’s what my mother used to say to me when I was growing up!”
Later, several Sandy Springs ladies took a “hard hat tour” of the new performing arts center to plan the fall fundraiser, The Elegant Elf Marketplace. Impressed with the beauty of the facility, Winner asked for a meeting with former City Springs event coordinator, David Daly, to pin down the anniversary celebration. “When asked what I had in mind, I told him my dream would be to have Itzhak Perlman in concert, coupled with a dinner before the performance, plus an anniversary cake and champagne celebration following. His answer was simple … ‘If you want that, I will contact Mr. Perlman and arrange it.’”
Perlman’s calendar allowed only two possible dates: Saturday, Feb. 2 – the night before the Super Bowl – or Saturday, Feb. 16. Winner said,” I definitely did not want to compete with the Super Bowl … and the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival had a hold on Saturday, Feb. 16 Kenny Blank, David Daly and I sat down and found a way to work together on this event. I’m very proud of that!”
So, let’s send an “icon award” to Winner. Without her energy and foresight, there wouldn’t have been a show!
And Sue did, indeed, get her cake. … a giant multilayered pink, chocolate and vanilla confection – champagne and all.