Passport
Full Episode
Itzhak

The film looks beyond the 16-time Grammy-winning musician to see the polio survivor whose parents emigrated from Poland to Israel, and the young man who struggled to be taken seriously as a music student when schools saw only his disability. In the film, Perlman’s life story unfolds through conversations with fellow musicians and friends, including Billy Joel, Alan Alda, pianist Martha Argerich, cellist Mischa Maisky, and his wife of 50 years, Toby. The Perlmans dedicate their lives to their large Jewish family in New York City, shared love for music and continual support of young musicians. American Masters: Itzhak is a portrait of musical virtuosity that explores themes of Jewish identity, Jewish history, humor and love.

 

Transcript Print

♪♪ ('Take Me Out to the Ball Game') - Play ball! - Play ball.

Oh, look at this. That's a home run.

- Hi, how are you? - Hey.

- Pleasure to meet you. - Nice to meet you.

That's my wife, Toby. - Hi, nice to meet you.

- Thank you for the home run. That was great!

- Is it cheesy to say that I always wanted to be a violinist?

- Cheesy?

Not from you.

(energetic violin music) - That's the variation.

- [Announcer] 16-time Grammy Award-winning violinist, and New York icon, Itzhak Perlman.

(audience cheers) ('The Star-Spangled Banner') (audience cheers and applauds) (energetic violin music) - One thing, when it da da de dugadugaduga, you know where you play that, dadadada.

This is Mushu Chicken, and it goes with, it goes with pancakes, if you want.

- Huh, and this is rice? - This is rice.

Okay, so then we can open that. That is a Doh Meow, which is a peashoot leaves.

So just help yourself.

- Okay. - Oh, it's chicken wings.

Please. - Thank you.

- Did you ever meet Heifetz? - Yes.

- Alright.

- It was an unforgettable meeting, like, I'm sure for everyone, but for me particularly.

- You see, I think that what makes people wanna play an instrument is what they hear in their head, you know?

The sound, they like the sound that they hear.

Because one of our children, she always wanted to play the flute.

Why?

'Cause she liked the sound, she liked what -- You can't explain it, you know?

And I wanted to play the violin, 'cause I like the sound.

But, of course, you know, I heard Heifitz on the radio, so it was a nice example that was already, you know, when I already thought Violin was, that's the thing.

(melancholic violin music) Fourth grade, Russian school.

Classroom, history lesson, so he says, 'I give you date, you tell me what happened in date.'

1799.

Nobody says anything.

Idiots.

Morons.

1799.

What?

Nothing.

I'll tell you what it is.

1799, Pushkin's birthday!

Okay, now I give you something easier, 1812.

Silence, nothing.

Morons, 1812!

Idiots!

1812!

Finally, Moishe, the Jewish boy in the back, says, He says, 'Yes, Moishe, what is it?'

He says, 'Pushkin's Bar Mitzvah?'

(laughter) I'm too early, I'm too early, alright.

Because I only have one note.

Alright, fine, so do it two, three bars before.

But listen, if for some reason I make a mistake, just go with me. (laughs) Oh, do it one more time so I can get it.

Ah, that felt good.

(thud) See, first you go like this, that's how you open it, and then you struggle.

Now let's see, what did I get here?

'Be prepared for a sudden, needed, and happy change in plans.'

Let's not do the Tchaikovsky. - Yeah, exactly. (laughs) (audience claps in unison) (audience applauds) ('Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat' by Strauss) - Please don't think I'm an idiot, please.

I'm making the cauliflower again.

Tell me again, what do you do?

Salt and pepper and olive oil and garlic.

It sounds so delicious.

Okay, talk to you later, ciao.

We were very lucky, because we have certain areas that we never even discussed, we just felt the same way about these areas and we proceeded with our life.

One of them was Friday night.

He doesn't play on a Friday night, he doesn't travel on a Friday night.

I mean, I always make Shabbat.

We never discussed it, it just was what we did, and of course we have our music in common, which, not that I'm in his league or class or anything like that, but I know something and we do well together.

We talk about it, we live it, we dream it, you know, and still today, I know I'm very critical of his playing.

Everybody who knows us knows that, but to me, when I hear that sound, when I hear that playing, it's like breathing, it's being alive.

Hi. - So... - What?

- I'm just doing the ending.

They're just gonna end, it's like a truck.

- A truck?

- Track. - Oh, a track.

- [Itzhak] Yes, you know me.

- English is not your first language.

It's very unclear to me, but it sounds like fun.

- (groans) You are so wet.

Yeah, you are a good doggie.

Okay, okay, bye.

You know what today we got? - What?

- I ordered on the telephone, I ordered pickles, so they came with a pickle shirt.

A green shirt, and I don't know how they knew about me, because they sent me an extra-large shirt.

- Boichick, there's nothing for you, nothing.

You have dinner later.

- Brace, brace. - That's a brace?

- It's a brace, believe me, it's a brace.

And that's brace all the way over there.

So he says, 'You don't have to take your shoes off.'

Well, I never take my shoes off anyway.

I can't take my shoes off, they're connected to my braces.

- [Woman] Let us know what you need, okay?

- I'm good, I'm good, I'm good.

Alright.

Done.

Okay.

When you look at the names of the streets of Tel Aviv and if you were to know each personality that the street is named after, you would basically know Israeli history, and a lot of Jewish history, because every person that the street is named after has done something either in the arts, poetry, politics, anything.

So, it's like an education.

So, if you look themup, what do you call it, Jewish Google, if you will, wouldn't it be, you can call it Joogle, that would be nice.

- [Toby] (laughs) That's funny.

- Jewish Google. - That's funny.

- So, you would really know a lot about history.

So now, Ben-Yehuda, which, by the way, is son of Judah, it used to be Itzhak Perlman, and a lot of people don't know that.

- Nobody knows that. - Nobody knows that.

Except for me, if you Joogle it, you will find out.

Here I think there is a violin shop here.

- [Toby] It used to be here, when you-- - Yeah, it used to be there. - When you were a kid?

- When I lived here, his father loaned me a three-quarter-size violin.

Weinstein, there it is, the first one.

Amnon is gonna be here any minute, but it's a question of is it a Jewish any-minute, or a regular any-minute?

- Yeah, if it's Jewish, you're in trouble.

- Oh, look, that's my picture.

- Where? - Right, me.

- Oh, yeah. - Photograph.

- [Friend] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- [Itzhak] You see, there is a painting of this guy.

That's Amnon's father.

- I don't believe you. (Toby laughs) I don't believe you. - No?

I was telling them, the last violin I tried of yours, eh!

But I'm just, I'm just... (laughter) So, who made these violins?

- It's difficult to say because they are coming from all over the world in this case.

German, French and Jewish.

- Jewish violin, show me a Jewish violin.

- That's what I'm going to do.

That's a violin made by a Jewish maker, Yakof Zimmerman, from Warsaw, and the label, it is in Yiddish, and a little Star of David here.

- Oh my goodness.

So, when was it used?

- [Ammon] The guy was an amateur.

He played in his house until the last days that the Germans came to Warsaw.

Then it's kept away and he asked his best friend to bring the violin to the family in Jerusalem.

(violin music) - It plays Jewish automatically.

So tell me about this.

- [Ammon] A colleague of mine wrote me a letter, that they found the violin, open it, and that's what was inside. (Toby gasps) 'Heil Hitler, 1936.'

- And who made this?

- We don't know.

The violin, owned by a Jewish guy in Germany.

Something happened to the violin and then, he brought it to a local guy.

The guy opened the violin, without permission, did this swastika, 'heil Hitler,' close the violin, and the Jewish played on this violin until he passed away.

- Yeah, make sure that there are no strings there.

- For the next thousand years. - Yes.

- As we say in English, no strings attached.

(laughter) - [Ammon] Exactly.

(violin music) - There was an entry from here to the kitchen.

You see that window over there?

That was my parents' bedroom, then the next room was where I practiced.

My parents came to Israel, strangers to the country.

My father did anything to make a living.

He learned how to be a barber.

That didn't work out because they needed me to be in an area where it was close to school.

So they then washed clothes for the neighbors, you know, they adjusted what they did for a living to what they had to do for me.

Anything that happened in my childhood, besides school, had to do with yes practice, no practice, that's all it was.

Maybe they thought, hey, listen, you have a talent, use it, because you're not gonna be a tennis player.

When you live in a small country, the goal is to go to the United States so that you go to the next level, but there were circumstances in which people who heard me play said, 'Oh, yeah, well, very nice, 'but he can't really, he's disabled.'

- All the big classical music stars in the world came to Israel and they all heard him, and nobody was brave enough to say he should go to the Juilliard School.

- They looked at the general picture.

They did not look at the specific picture.

The specific picture was, judge me by what I do, but don't judge me by what I can't do.

So, there was a period of time where nothing was happening and my parents actually were very close to giving up on me.

- Just as Israel has triumphed over so many discouragements and so many hurdles, this little boy, thirteen and a half years old and a polio victim, triumphed over polio, with the help of God and Yasha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin say that he is going to be one of the great violin virtuosos of the world.

('Concerto in E-minor' by Mendelssohn) - We never discussed Sullivan's reasons for taking me, and I don't know whether we agree on this or not, whether it was purely because of the way I played.

- No No. - No, I don't think so.

- It was a, you know, poor-little-crippled-boy kind of thing, I'm sure, in Sullivan's mind, but anybody who heard that, any musician who heard that knew that it didn't have anything to do with crippled, it didn't have anything to do with anything other than gift.

('Concerto in E-minor' by Mendelssohn) (audience applauds) Hello.

(laughs) - [Hairdresser] Any in particular how you want me to blow-dry your hair? - Yes.

I wanna look like Marilyn Monroe. (laughs) Well, he's just finishing a tour, a three-week tour, of China, Japan, Korea.

- He's in the service?

- No, he's a musician, he's a violinist.

- I don't know when it was recorded, but they did like a little NPR piece, and then they were talking about all the things that my dad has done and that he first came over when he was 13.

- I also listened to this NPR piece that they did.

There's a clip of the Strauss Sonata, the recording that he just made.

- [Ariella] Yes, yes, I heard it in the background!

- It's totally breathtaking! - I know!

Because we've been listening to it at home with the boys, and I'm like, (gasps) I know that, I love that.

It's so beautiful.

- But it came as such a shock to me.

And then I thought to myself, that's what I heard more than 50 years ago when I asked him to marry me.

I heard that sound, it was just fantastic.

('Sonata for Violin and Piano in E' by Strauss) - In an interview, violinist Itzhak Perlman was once asked, what sound he loves, and his eyes lit up and he replied, the (chuckles) sound of onions sizzling in a pan.

(audience laughs) That is a man of large appetites, who knows how to live.

But what truly sets him apart and what makes him perhaps the most beloved violinist of our time is that he approaches music the way he approaches everything in life.

With passion and with joy.

He lays bare the soul of a piece, making us feel each note and giving us a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves and by doing so, he makes the world a little more beautiful.

(audience applauds) - When I first came to the States, first we lived in a downtown hotel for one day, then another downtown hotel for another day, and then this, we lived there for a year, just me and my mother.

It had a little kitchen, we lived in one room and that's when I had my first tutoring to study English.

Oh, listen, let me take you to Juilliard, the old Juilliard!

I mean, this was my route, this was the route, you know, every day, or three, four times a week, I used to go to Juilliard.

And Juilliard was not at the Lincoln Center.

Juilliard was all the way up 120th St.

- He was 13 and he had come over to the United States from Israel, and he was in a miserable hotel room, and it was raining and he was in a terrible mood, did not want to play for me, and he looked at me just frowning and finally, and he didn't speak any English, and neither did his mother, but we managed to make it clear that he was supposed to play. (laughs) He started playing Mendelssohn concerto, at about double tempo and looking at me very crossly, while he did it.

I thought, I've never seen anything like this in my life.

He was just, it was just amazing and... I think I fell in love with him then.

He was, he was... He really was amazing.

('Concerto in E-minor' by Mendelssohn) There was no question about that talent.

I think the question in some people's minds was the fact that he walked with crutches.

And they called it wrong.

You know, they really called it wrong.

And I knew at the time that they were calling it wrong.

I tried to find as many ways as possible to make him independent and he became very independent.

- Sometimes she would do certain things and you would say, why the hell is she doing it?

After a while, you know that there was a plan.

- Miss DeLay took you to museums, she got you an art teacher so that you were drawing and painting and you were developing as a person.

- Yeah.

- She understood that art is a reflection of the artist, and if there's nothing going on up here, (laughs) maybe not much will go on here.

- Yeah, but she was a wonderful teacher.

I hated her, I hated her.

I hated her because she was so different than my first teacher, see, because my first teacher just told me everything, 'You do this, you're not doing this, you're not practicing.'

I mean, come on, please, please, okay.

Then comes Miss DeLay.

'Sugarplum, what do you think of that?'

'What do you think of this?'

'What do you mean, what do I think?

I don't think, you tell me what to do and I'll do it.

Don't tell me that I have to think.'

If something was out of tune, she would say, 'Sugarplum, what's your concept of G-sharp?'

'What the hell do you mean my concept?'

But it's very interesting that I hated the way she taught me and now that's the way I teach.

('Hungarian Dance No. 17' by Brahms) (students applaud) So let me ask you, was anybody here moved by any of these four performances?

- [Students] All of them.

- You were moved by all of them?

- [Students] Yeah.

- For me, the Kreisler, which is so warm and tender, it's like this connection to a sound.

- [Itzhak] It was passion.

- It was like gripping from beginning to end.

That's something about artistry.

- Maybe it has to with my age, whatever it is, I know that the middle section of the Kreisler one, that was for me, that was for me.

And the Heifetz one, I felt, awestruck by the middle section, what he did with colors, and it was almost showing off, where it was just like one color after another, and it just came with you, it was like fireworks, boom boom boom boom, and it was all perfectly timed and so on.

- I had a question about sound, though.

Do you think that timing could affect the illusion of how we perceive the sound?

- The front and the end of the note, affect what you're hearing, and how you emote to it, I think front like, someone was talking about the bowing and how hard it was, I think articulation, and the way you end notes is just as important as the note and the core of the sound itself, 'cause if the core is gorgeous but it ends totally flat, emotionally, you're gonna, it's not gonna speak as well.

- Now, with string players, it's more esoteric.

Because you're playing on an instrument, and you're doing stuff with your hands, and why does it come out in certain people so incredible, and in some other, it's okay, but is not as moving?

That for me is inexplicable and it's nice that there are certain things that you can't explain, it's always nice.

('Where's the Orchestra' by Billy Joel) Is the mic on?

- Get the violin sound.

(violin riff) ('Where's the Orchestra' by Billy Joel) - Some of these things, can I play along?

Because I'm always playing together with somebody.

- In which ones? - Everything.

- [Man] Well, I put some of those in there.

This is all unison here, right?

You want it on your own? - Yeah.

And I want that on my own, I mean, because otherwise it's, you know, it's silly for me.

Don't you think?

- [Billy] We can loosen it up as long as we state that line, because it's Allen Town.

- No, no, no, of course, of course.

- Take the ending, then? - I'd love to take the ending.

(violin music) I have an idea about just a little something before, so that it brings in those fantastic Indian sounding drums.

- Before the percussion? - Yeah.

- So we'd have to skip the... - No, you can have whatever you want.

- But if I do that, you'll never hear your violin.

- Oh, oh, I see. - Maybe.

- So maybe after the violin, after your, I could do it.

- Well I do the, and then we count.

- The percussion starts.

There's four of them.

And then it goes.

- Oh, I see, but is it possible that I can be, maybe before that and then bring the drums?

- Yeah, we could try it.

(violin music) (energetic percussion) - We need to get a little more organized.

It does sound like an Irish jig.

Is that what we're going for?

- If you want something else, it can be Jewish, it can be Irish.

- No, the Irish thing sounded good, actually.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gonna do a song for St. Patrick's Day and it goes something like this.

(audience cheers) (violin music) Please welcome Itzhak Perlman on the fiddle.

This is his arrangement.

('We Didn't Start the Fire' by Billy Joel) - Will I be able to-- - We have to see.

- What, it's like the paths with snow, drifts and stuff?

- Drifts and puddles, and puddles to here, and you'll either end up on the street, with the scooter lopsided, or you'll just sail through.

- The scooter is gonna be underneath water, but not lopsided, my weight is too much.

- You just have to allow enough time so we're not rushing.

- Is there a lot of puddles? - A lot of puddles.

- Alright, fine, alright.

Okay, look, I'm gonna go into the second one.

I'm gonna go into the higher scooter.

Oh, hello, Martha. - I brought pickles.

- Pickles, why? - Yeah.

- What else am I gonna buy at the hardware store?

- Oh, pickles, yeah, right, okay.

- No one was on the road. - Unbelievable.

- There are mountains on either end, I'm afraid for my life.

- I thought, nobody but you would come from Boston today.

Oh, my God.

- It doesn't say kosher, so if you don't want it in the house, I'm not hurt, I'll take it home.

- How can a pickle not be kosher?

- I don't know. - It's a cucumber.

- Yeah.

- This is one of our oldest friends from when we were like 14/15.

(violin music) - We all knew each other at Meadowmount, and Miss DeLay would sometimes take me out and also in the car would be Itzhak and Mrs. Perlman, his mother.

This was kind of a gentle way of introducing Itzhak to American kids.

Toby was blown away by Itzhak's playing and she was a goner.

- I was a goner! - Goner!

- I was. (laughs) (violin music) Itzhak was playing on one of the student concerts that Sunday night, he played the Tzigane, the Ravel Tzigane, and I went backstage and asked him to marry me.

(chuckles) He was 17, it was July 4th weekend and he was almost 18, his birthday's the end of August.

And then, well, about a year or so after we met, he grew up and he became interested in girls, and found a girlfriend, and it wasn't me.

It was somebody else, (laughs) it was terrible.

So I had to kind of live through that period of time, and it was very difficult because, you see, I was hopelessly in love with him, but he recovered from his other girlfriend, it took a year or so, and our friendship resumed and it grew and it blossomed and, really, marriage was the most natural thing, it was not, not an emotional trauma for us at all.

('Sonata No. 2 in A Major' by Vivaldi) - Here, let me go first.

Alright, now this does not look good, this is bad.

I mean, this is bad.

No, well just clean a little bit of the thing.

It's wide enough.

- Way to go!

- [Itzhak] Okay, we did it.

When we met, the common thing for us was the music.

We learned a lot from just spending evenings listening to records.

- You never heard of Schubert's Song till you met me.

- I was very late in listening.

Think about Israel, the only chance of listening to any music is the radio.

- Whereas I went to Carnegie Hall twice a week with my father.

My father believed that if Heifetz was playing in Carnegie Hall, it was more important for me to go to hear Heifetz and not go to school the next day because I would be up too late, than not to hear Heifetz and go to school, so as a result, I learned other things that served me so well in life, in my life with you.

(melancholic violin music) Itzhak, on the E string.

Sharp.

- I didn't play an E string yet.

Are you talking about this morning?

- The rehearsal, sharp on the E string.

Not in the last movement, that's fine.

All the way up, yeah.

(bright violin music) See what I need here is a television so I can watch some baseball, something between-- between commercials or something I can practice.

('Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat' by Schubert) Three? - Yes.

- Thank you very much.

- [Toby] That's probably Alan.

- Now, the problem with this is that if I don't stand up, I can't see what's in there.

Oi, perfect.

I'm cooking for you. - What are you cooking?

- I'm cooking a soup.

- [Alan] What kind of soup?

- I call it a garbage pail soup.

- (laughs) I have to go now.

- That means everything in the garbage pail goes in the soup. - I heard.

- You heard. - Alright.

- This is a syrah, this is really a great wine.

- Well, I'm surprised you didn't say that.

- Too obvious. - Too easy, I know.

- Enough, enough, enough.

- You knew I had polio. - No.

- You didn't know I had polio?

- It didn't affect you as far as walking and stuff like that.

- See, I had something you didn't have, I bet.

I had the Sister Kenny treatment.

A lot of really painful massage, and wrapping your muscles all over your body with scalding hot blankets.

- That I did not have, I had to smell smoke, parchment with holy words and then they would burn it and I would smell the holy words.

My parents would put me on all sorts of weird diets.

A raw egg every morning and, you know, I kind of liked that.

- You did? - I did.

- Especially the yolk.

Mercury. - Mercury?

- Yeah, I had to have a little thing of mercury every morning. - This is terribly toxic.

- That might explain the way I behave.

(pot lid clatters) - What are you doing?

- A good technique is not how many fast notes do you play.

A good technique is how do you manipulate a phrase in such a way with giving it colors and stuff that you can actually make it sound amazing.

Once you have that technique, then you have to have, I suppose, a vision, of what to do with the technique, and I suppose that's in acting the same thing.

- Yeah, I think so.

I think there are different layers of preparation, different layers of performance.

For me personally, I find out how I'm going to do it by doing it.

- Okay, yes.

- You too? - Yeah, oh, yes.

- Oh, no kidding? - Oh, no, no, no, no.

I don't have a plan.

When the music speaks to me, I react.

But you know when something is planned, it'll sound planned.

- Boy, I think that's so true.

I don't want to hear a report on what they decided to do.

I want to hear something lived for the first time.

- Ah, now we're talking.

You know, as I'm getting older, I don't know, do you find as you're getting older, you don't like anybody?

(Alan laughs) - No, no, I've got the opposite as I get older.

I think, oh, my God, look what they can do.

(processor whirs) - [Itzhak] You said it.

- Was either of your parents musical?

- No. - No, no?

So where did you get it?

- Tuchus. (Alan laughs) (plucked violin music) Finally, the little boy, Moshe.

'Yes, Moshe,' he says, 'Pushkin's bar mitzvah?'

- (laughs) Wonderful.

('Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 4' by Bach) - [Itzhak] The first time I heard Martha play Bach, I said that's the piano that I want to hear when I play these sonatas.

You get inspired with what you hear.

- It's a very special relationship, and I am completely enchanted these days.

- Well, it's like having a conversation.

- Completely. - Which is nice.

- That was good. - That's really good.

- We've been waiting for 15 minutes for the bathroom.

We finally managed to open the door, he's completely out.

We can't continue the recording session until Itzhak can go to the bathroom, this is the only accessible bathroom in the entire recording studio.

- This is a new one for me. - Okay, here we go.

- Over this way.

- Okay, it's clear.

- Alright.

I'm going into the bathroom, thank you very much.

('FAE Sonate, Scherzo in C Minor' by Brahms) I think the piano's too loud, I think a little bit.

A little bit, or give me more violin.

Well, many, many things that I have to fix.

- Me, too. - Yeah.

- [Martha] But do you think in general, what do you think?

- I think in general, it's fine.

Once I wake up, then it'll be fine.

I was sleeping there.

(aggressive piano music) Hello.

Would you like to hold a cheap Strad?

- Sure. - Okay.

I actually want you to inspect the case.

The violin is good, the case is the one. (laughs) - Great!

- I'm going to the coast, so I just want you to look to see are there any openings or anything like this.

- Make sure that it's all happy.

- So to speak.

Why do you do that?

- If I find an open spot, it actually makes it louder.

So, if I miss something, this tells me, hey, look here again.

No, it's all good.

- Oh, so now there are no excuses.

- [Stefan] No excuses.

- Oh, there was an excuse, the bridge was not quite right.

- [Stefan] A little bit.

There we go, nice and straight.

- You know, as clean, as beautiful as it is, it's slightly uneven, which gives it a very sort of, organic feeling to it.

- [Itzhak] Uneven where?

- Well, you know, look at the black of the paraffin.

One side is slightly thicker than the other side.

Then it goes from thinner to slightly thicker.

- So, does that have to do with the tools?

- This one is quite unusual because this one still retains a lot of tool marks.

- I like that. - That's beautiful.

- [Itzhak] So, why does this thing sound good?

- I wish I knew.

Why don't all Strads sound like this one?

- Is it an accident?

- It is maybe in part an accident, and a very lucky one for that matter because there is other 17, 14, 15.

- Yeah, they don't sound like this.

- [Stefan] You know they sound great, but not like this one.

- All I know is, when I first played on it, I couldn't believe it.

(joyful violin music) I just remember that we got a house and we had no money and then I got the phone call that this was for sale and I turned to my wife and I said, 'What are we gonna do now?'

She says, 'So we take another loan.'

I said, 'Okay, fine, let's take another loan.'

We're still paying it. (laughs) (joyful violin music) When you own a dog and you are nervous, your dog is nervous.

And if you are calm, your dog is calm.

It's the same with the violin, if you start trying to figure out what would make it sound better, it always needs adjustments.

- It's a living thing, in some ways.

It moves with the weather.

The material itself moves, so every day you pick it up, it's gonna feel different, sound different.

- I play all my concerts on this, and it's my dream violin and every time I look at it, I say, 'I'm very lucky.'

I can make things work on this violin easily.

It responds to the color changes, it responds to my concept of sound.

I have a particular concept of sound and when I play on this violin, it gives it to me.

('Violin Partita No. 2' by Bach) (audience applauds) (background chatter) - [Woman] Thank you.

(orchestra warming up) All tuned, everybody?

('Symphony No. 6 in B Minor' by Tchaikovksy) When I heard, I went. (hums) It stopped vibrating for some reason.

So that (hums), make sure that beat is vibrated.

Okay, one more time, one.

('Symphony No. 6 in B Minor' by Tchaikovksy) Bring it forward.

Bravo, bravo, bravo, bravo.

- [Toby] I sincerely believe that it was this commitment that you made to teaching that put your playing on the level that it is today.

- No, absolutely. - I believe that.

- And I always say to my students, never ever miss an opportunity to teach, because when you teach others, you teach yourself and I find that in my playing.

I think Toby's right, my playing has taken a different kind of meaning because I am basically teaching myself at all times because I'm listening on a certain level.

- In school curriculums, when budgets are tight, music education, fine arts is the first thing that gets cut.

Why is it important?

Why should it be an integral part of child development?

- Society is not complete without the arts, it's just not.

- Music gives us permission to dream, and out of our dreams sometimes something important happens.

It gives us... permission to feel, to be human.

It's what separates us from, I mean, you watch the films of these monkeys, and they are so smart and they're smarter than a lot of people we know, (audience laughs) but, you know, but the fact is that we are separated by very little, and music is one of the things and art, that separates us.

On the way here today, we were driving here, we listened to, we listen a lot to the opera channel, and suddenly this voice, this song-- - Marian Anderson singing a spiritual.

- I thought you were gonna crash the car, (audience laughs) because the beauty was such that, you know, I couldn't breathe.

Well, that's the point, especially in this world.

- I always feel, am I not lucky to be able to be affected by music like that.

I consider myself lucky, both of us, who can just listen to something and just be so moved.

('Crucifixion Spiritual') - [Host] And now it's my pleasure and honor to introduce the laureate of 2016 of the Genesis Prize, Mr. Itzhak Perlman.

(audience applauds) - This award is unique in providing an opportunity to do something meaningful with a generous one-million-dollar prize.

Most prizes, you get the prize, and it's very nice.

Here, you get the prize and you give it right back.

That's what makes it so Jewish.

(audience laughs) This prize makes you work at charity.

It's not something that you can say, 'Here's money, take it, I did my job.'

- I think the decision to give to primarily to disability and music or a combination thereof is the right decision for us because that's the focus of our lives.

- Architects and interior designers should take special courses.

I mean, how do you design a room in a hotel that would actually, do you know how many time I get into the wall and I smash into the wall, and I go into the bathroom and I have to really maneuver?

- So what about endowing an architectural prize that recognizes brilliance in disability access design?

- That is an incredible idea. - That is such a good idea!

- There are so many places where you can't get in.

And you cannot imagine how hostile that makes me feel.

How hostile that makes me feel-- - Oh, I can imagine.

Yes, we all grew up with you going, 'I hate this, bleep!

I hate it!'

Right, so that was basically our whole lives.

So we have no idea what you're talking about with hostility - The perspective about food actually has to do with your childhood, because sometimes when food is really rotten and you have it as a child, then you think it's great.

For example, and I think we should all agree here.

Gefilte fish.

Don't you think it's kind of theoretically yucky?

- No, I love it.

- [Itzhak] You love it, why do you like it?

- I don't think it's theoretically yucky, either.

- I mean, think about it.

Chopped fish. - It's like a canel.

- With sugar, boiled. - Delicious.

- I mean, what could be more disgusting?

And yet, we all love it.

- So, are you excited about meeting Netanyahu?

- Yes, meeting every head of state is exciting in a way.

- Very exciting.

- Meeting the head of a state.

We don't have to talk politics, we can talk about food.

We can talk about music.

(dog barks) - [Man] Don't touch it.

- I shouldn't? - No, because she is biting.

- She's biting? - She's biting?

Ah, do do. - She's biting?

- [Man] Her name is Kia.

- Kia, oh, you're a good dog.

Oh, yes, you're a good dog.

She is a biting dog, you know, but she likes you.

- We have two dogs, one is called Multek, and the other one is called Boicheck.

My job is, when I am in the city, I have the night walk.

I'm walking at night. - You live in Washington, DC?

- No, no, no, New York, New York.

(audience applauds) When I was a student at the Juilliard School in New York, a lady of means helped me out by providing taxi money for the trips to and from the school, and funds for books and sheet music.

It wasn't a lot of money, but it made a difference.

Her pure agenda taught me something about giving.

(chatter in foreign language) Developing promising new talent is something my wife, Toby, and I have always supported through the Perlman Music Program and we have made it our mission to cultivate performers over the years.

(traditional music) (singing in foreign language) - What we named this area is the Triangle of Peace.

It's the only place in the country that has a synagogue, a church and a mosque, together joint, and it's like a triangle.

It's not easy to live in a mixed city together all the time but we are striving to make it work.

- I was inspired to start this program by my own life experience in school.

I wasn't a good student on the violin, I wasn't a particularly interesting or exciting violinist, so I had to struggle kind of on all levels, and the more I looked around, the more I felt that especially at music programs, the more I felt that I could make a difference.

(choir rehearses) (students laugh) (piano music) (choir music) The curriculum was ready to go, but more important than the curriculum, the philosophy.

Because, you see, the music is just an excuse.

This program is about life.

- What happens when you play a phrase, whatever it is, a quartet here and so on, and somebody is slightly out of tune?

How do you deal with that without hurting somebody's feelings and without seeming, you know, arrogant?

And just to say, 'Hey, that's no good,' is not helpful.

Yeah, yeah, okay.

A lot of people will say, 'Can we listen to you teach one of your best students?'

And we never do that, because we feel that there is no such thing as the best student.

- Right, there's no such thing, every child develops at his or her own pace, they come to us out of these competitive situations and we are exactly the opposite.

- [Itzhak] Can I see what that looks like?

(girl laughs) - It's supposed to be a tiny little-- - Unbelievable.

Hello, my name is Ding Dong, and I represent all of your childhood imaginary friends.

Can't you tell?

(makes silly noises) ('Divertimento in F Major' by Mozart) Okay, good, so why don't we do the first movement?

My teacher in Israel, she was sort of my only teacher for eight years.

The chemistry between me, my teacher, my parents, it was like the triangle of Hell.

Where my teacher would give my parents hell, and then my parents would give me hell.

And then my teacher would give me hell separately, and so it was hell, hell.

There were threats they would take me out of the house and put me in some institution or something.

I remember their words all the time in Hebrew.

(speaks foreign language) 'He has no ambition, he has no ambition.'

They were always looking at other students at that time.

They said, 'Look at this guy, look at this guy.

And you don't care.'

Maybe that was a good thing.

- Well, you were focused then, as you are now, on how you play the phrase, on how you approach the piece.

Maybe another child would have caved under the pressure and become dysfunctional.

- For me, I think you have to have the ability to evolve.

Some people don't have the ability to evolve.

- They're at their prime when they're 12.

That's what we want to avoid. - Yeah, yeah.

- In terms of you, I was in the camp with Miss DeLay and your mother.

I had no doubt, so I never worried.

- That made two of us.

(both laugh) - You always worried!

- Yeah, yeah, that's my mother.

She worried, she was a big worrier.

That's where I get it from.

- But be fair, growing up the way she grew up, in the ghetto in Poland, and her life, I mean, of course she worried.

- She didn't trust anybody.

She felt that if somebody did something good, there was a hidden agenda.

- But I think, I do think that people of her age, in that generation, Jews, who suffered and struggled, 'cause all Jews suffered and struggled in different ways.

You know, my parents lived in New York.

My parents were born in America, and both were the victims of anti-Semitism here, but I don't think you can compare it to the experience that your parents had.

- That's true, absolutely.

(melancholic violin music) So, the instruments were confiscated by the Germans?

- By the Germans, the people who came to Auschwitz, they came always with violin.

People never left the violin, don't forget it.

And then they confiscated it, send them to the gas, and then they gave it to the orchestra.

The man survived because he played the orchestra.

- I wonder if there were some people who couldn't really play very well, but just said, 'I'll do it, just for...' - [Amnon] And none of them continued to play, except one or two after the war.

- In other words, this was strictly for survival.

(energetic violin music) - When people asked once, Isaac Stern, why so many Jewish people are playing the violin, his answer was, 'This is the easiest instrument to pick up and to run away.'

When they were listening to the playing, for them, they were not in the camp, they were out, and you know what is five minutes not to be in Auschwitz?

Even in your mind?

That's life-saving.

That's the power of the violin.

May I ask you to play a little bit of Schindler's List on the Auschwitz violin?

- You know, it's incredible, with Schindler's List, when I go around the world, the only piece that people ask to play is that.

('Theme from Schindler's List' by John Williams) You know, when you start imagining what's happening, it's very moving.

- You know, what this violin has seen, if it could tell it to us by words.

- Yeah, yeah. (melancholic piano music) He got a gift, because what he is doing there, it's not music, this is praying with the violin.

('Theme from Schindler's List' by John Williams) (plucks violin) (melancholic violin music) - I think a lot in life is luck, because who knew that we would grow together?

We wouldn't grow apart.

Who knew that we would both be baseball fanatics?

You know, all of these little pieces of life that are really important.

It's one thing to love the guy you marry, but to also respect the guy you marry.

This is perfect, perfect, and now I'm going to shoot the dog.

Get outside, I really don't like all this barking, and now you're gonna stay outside, yeah.

Number one son, exhausted number one son.

- [Rami] That's me.

Oh, hello, young man, how are you?

- Hey!

- Hey. - Hello.

- Chicken's in the oven, duck's in the oven.

- Duck, nice!

(Itzhak hums) - Which is right from the lalo, and I don't know what came first.

- And she told me to get a lot of stuff to choose from, but I haven't gotten it yet.

- You should get, play some Feray.

- I don't know, I like the Mendelssohn.

- You like the Mendelssohn, okay.

- And she also said today, maybe Mendelssohn sonata.

- That's a nice piece, difficult for piano, because piano has a lot of... (singing in Hebrew) - Can you pour?

(singing in Hebrew) ('Ale Brider' by Klezmer) ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪