Pianist Perlman overcame hurdles to continue concerts

Pianist Navah Perlman will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15 and 16. She is the
daughter of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Pianist Navah Perlman will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15 and 16. She is the daughter of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Pianist Navah Perlman will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15 and 16. She is the
daughter of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Pianist Navah Perlman will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15 and 16. She is the daughter of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Knoxville Symphony Moxley Carmichael Masterworks Concert

  • What: Mozart & Mendelssohn
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15-16
  • Where: Tennessee Theatre
  • Tickets: Adults $20-$80, students $10
  • Info: 865-291-3310

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," Navah Perlman said, as explanation for her way of dealing with the curves and roadblocks life throws one's way.

It wasn't just a cliche when Perlman said it during our telephone conversation about her upcoming performance of Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor" with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Thursday and Friday, Jan. 15 and 16, at the Tennessee Theatre.

She knows firsthand the dilemmas one can confront, from working out a performance with a conductor and orchestra in just a couple of days to catastrophes that can throw one's career off course.

Of the former, she said "I could count on one hand the experiences when the conductor was just being obnoxious. Most of the time, it's a very good give and take, working out how each of us would like to approach some passage or other. It's what collaboration is all about."

Also contributing to those successful projects is Perlman's charming personality that radiates through the telephone. There also is the respect she commands as a pianist who plays with lyrical, eloquent expression.

Perlman's attitude comes from learning not to sweat the small stuff.

The daughter of the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, she was well on her way to a career as a concert pianist when she had to give up playing. At the end of her freshman year at Brown University in 1990, during which she also studied piano at Julliard, she became very ill and was diagnosed with a hybrid of three different diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, a spinal form of arthritis called spondyll arthritis and periphery lupus symptoms.

"I had conflicting symptoms and it took my doctors a while to figure it out," she said. "I was ordered to stop playing the piano."

But instead of see nothing but disaster, she turned her focus to art history, a subject with which she had become fascinated during a survey course.

"I would have gotten my Ph.D. in art history if I had not been able to continue playing the piano," she said. "But fortunately, the arthritis has not affected my fingers."

Asked if she had ever considered following in her father's footsteps and playing the violin, she said, "I love the sound of the violin, but from an early age I was more attracted to the sounds of the piano. I just loved the range and power it had."

Now the mother of four, including twins, Perlman is careful to keep her life in as much balance as possible. Although the pregnancy with the twins confined her to bed rest for weeks, she also credits the pregnancy with improving her health. "I really think the twin pregnancy put me into remission," she said.

Currently, Perlman plays 30 or so concerts a year, divided between her solo performances and playing with her trio.

"Growing up, I had a very peculiar and unique situation to show me what it would be like to play as many concerts as possible very year," she said. "My father did that for many years.

"Of course, having a family, I want to spend as much time as possible with my kids. But I also like playing music."

"It's nice to be able to choose. It allows me to keep my brain where I want it to be and also enjoy my family," she said.

In addition to Perlman's performance of the Mozart concerto on this week's concerts, the KSO will also play Bach's "Brandenburg concerto No. 3 in G" BWV 1048 and Felix Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 4 in A Major," Op. 90, known as the "Italian."

The three works share a common bond. In Bach's and Mozart's times, concerts consisted almost entirely of new music, often composed for the occasion and seldom played again.

By the 1830s, when Mendelssohn was conducting the best orchestras, almost no one had heard of Bach's or Mozart's music. They were dead and forgotten. That is, until Mendelssohn began programming their works on his concerts.

It was a major reversal in the tidal flow of music. Before Mendelssohn, concerts were an event because one went to hear what was new. After Mendelssohn, concertgoers went, and still go, to hear music largely of the past.

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