Susan Jackson: In the past you have said that you would never conduct.
Itzhak Perlman: I did say that, and I really meant it, but 10 years ago my wife, Toby, started a summer music program for talented violinists and pianists, 18 and under, and she asked if I would occasionally coach. Coaching is basically another way of saying conducting, so I tried it and people said, "You got a nice sound out of the kids," and I thought, if I can get this kind of result from kids, what about from professionals? I first tried in a safe place: the Israel Philharmonic. I figured that if I was going to fall flat on my face, it was better to do it with friends. That got good results, and one thing led to another, and here we are.
Q: How has conducting affected your performing?
A: It has been absolutely fabulous. I'm now doing three things, concerts, conducting, and teaching, and they each support each other. I learn to see things from different perspectives and listen with different ears. In all three of these things, the most important thing that you need to do is really listen.
Q: This is your New York Philharmonic conducting debut, but of course you have been performing here for many years.
A: I'm really looking forward to it. I'm sure the first rehearsal will be very exciting‹especially since I can just rehearse and go home. That by itself is fantastic.
Q: How does it feel to be the conductor rather than the soloist?
A: People always say, "Isn't it incredible to feel that power when you raise your arm and 100 people perform, and isn't conducting much easier than playing the violin?" The answer to both questions is no. First of all, it's not easy to be good at anything; you try to be the best. Number two, I don't feel that the conductor has real power. The orchestra has the power, and every member of it knows instantaneously if you're just beating time. If you want a committed performance from a group, you need to work for it.
Susan Jackson writes frequently about the arts.