Perlman replaces his long-time friend Paul Lustig Dunkel, who has served as the orchestra's music director and conductor since co-founding it in 1982. Dunkel announced last year that he was stepping down in May 2008.
"We are flat-out thrilled," principal horn player Peter Reit said in a statement.
Perlman will conduct three out of the orchestra's five programs over each season, and perform as soloist from time to time. "Right now, I'm in the middle of research to put together some nice programs," the violinist told The Journal News of White Plains. "I want to do some contemporary composers you've never heard of," he continued, jokingly. "No, I'm a bread-and-butter kind of musician. I like to do my Brahmses, my Mozarts, my Tchaikovskys. It's fun. Here's a term for you: Call it 'comfort music.' "
The orchestra's board of directors formed a search committee for a new artistic director in the fall of 2006, by which time they "agreed with Dunkel to part amicably," according to the The Journal News.
Orchestra executive director Joshua Worby approached Perlman after meeting him in December, following a concert at Purchase College by musicians from the Perlman Program, a summer chamber music workshop for string players aged 18-30, whom Dunkel had asked to perform Bach's Brandenburg Concertos with the Westchester Philharmonic. "It was a light bulb moment," Worby said.
"I am gratified to pass the baton to my friend Itzhak Perlman," said Dunkel in a statement. "I know the orchestra to which I have devoted 25 years of my life will be in the hands of an absolute master."
"It's like the Yankees getting Alex Rodriguez if he arrived with three World Series rings on his fingers," said Worby.
"[Worby] and I are like happy parents who've given birth to a beautiful baby," added orchestra president Neil Aaron.