At the age of four, Perlman contracted polio, damaging the use of his legs. Nevertheless, he began studying the violin at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, after hearing it played on the radio. When he was merely thirteen, Perlman moved to the United States to study music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. In 1963, he made his debut at Carnegie Hall and won the competitive Levintritt Competition in 1964. In 1968, he made his debut in London. Since 1975, Perlman has been a professor of Brooklyn College.
In 1987, he joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), and toured throughout Eastern Europe. In 1990, Perlman traveled again with the IPO to the USSR, for their first-ever performance in Moscow and Leningrad. Perlman would travel with the IPO a third time in 1994, performing in China and India.
In the 1970s, Perlman made numerous television appearances on such shows as The Tonight Show and Sesame Street. Perlman also became a regular guest at the White House, performing at a number of functions. He has also been a soloist for a number of movie scores, particularly the score of Schindler’s List (1993) by John Williams, which won the Academy Award that year for “Best Score.” In 2005, Perlman was the violin soloist for Memoirs of a Geisha, along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Also that year, the Israeli news website YNet declared Perlman the 135th greatest Israeli of all time in an online poll.
Although he is best known for playing classical music, Perlman is also a renowned jazz and klezmer artist. In 2003, Perlman was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. From 2002 until 2004, he was music advisor to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. in 2007, the Westchester Philharmonic appointed Perlman as artistic director and principal conductor.
In 2015, Perlman celebrated his 70th birthday and the release of a 25-cd box set of his greatest works. In November 2015, Perlman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony and, in December, he was informed he would receive the Genesis Prize. In addition to recognition of their “engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel,” the recipients also receive a $1 million cash prize.
He has also received 16 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and four Emmy Awards.
Perlman lives in New York City with his wife; the couple has five children.
Sources: Jonathan Zalman, “Itzhak Perlman awarded $1 million Genesis prize,” Tablet Magazine. (December 15, 2015).
“Itzhak Perlman (1945 - ),” American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999), pg. 395-6.
“Itzhak Perlman,” Wikipedia.