PROVO — He has 16 Grammys and four Emmys to his name. 

At 13, he moved from Israel to New York to study violin at The Juilliard School. Later that year, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He’s soloed with all of the major symphonies throughout the world. He has helped bring classical music into the mainstream with appearances on “Sesame Street,” his work on the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack and his national anthem performance at a New York Mets game. 

And now, for the first time in his remarkable career, Itzhak Perlman is coming to BYU. 

The BYU Philharmonic is gearing up for this moment of a lifetime: sharing the stage with the world’s greatest violinist. 

On Jan. 9, the orchestra will accompany the 74-year-old violinist as he plays one of his signature pieces — the Beethoven Violin Concerto. As of now, the BYU Philharmonic is the only student orchestra Perlman is performing with this year, and it’s not a moment the musicians are taking lightly. 

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“We look at it as a responsibility to prepare to be worthy of this opportunity, and the students have worked really hard,” BYU Philharmonic conductor Kory Katseanes told the Deseret News. “We’re as sober and serious about it as you can imagine. We’re not giddy. We have our eyes on the prize, and we’re heads down and plowing ahead. We’re going to be ready.”

Coming to BYU

Perlman isn’t a stranger to Utah. The Israeli American violinist performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle as a guest artist with the Utah Symphony in 1976 and 1978, according to information provided by the Utah Symphony. Katseanes was a violinist in the symphony at the time and still vividly remembers how “open and gregarious” Perlman was toward the musicians. 

Itzhak Perlman will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto at BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. | Lisa Marie Mazzucco

The violin virtuoso performed three times at Abravanel Hall throughout the 1980s and 90s, and returned to the concert hall during the 2002 Winter Olympics. 

Over the last decade, Perlman has dedicated much of his career to music education. His concert performances are more selective. (As of now, his website only lists performance dates through March.)

Perlman’s upcoming appearance at BYU marks the kind of event that is “getting to be rarer and rarer for audiences these days,” Katseanes said.

“There’s only a few artists like this in a lifetime that come along that are this great,” he said. “You can play really well and you’d never sound like Perlman. Frankly, it’s a gift from God.” 

Getting Perlman to BYU has been five years in the making. Bridget Benton, the director of BYU’s “Bravo!” series, has communicated with Perlman’s management over the last few years to find a window of time that would work for Perlman as well as make sure the school can meet Perlman’s accommodations.

These days, Perlman, who as a child suffered a bout of polio that compromised the use of his legs, performs on an electric scooter. Katseanes said the school has built a ramp and concert podium for Perlman to perform on in BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall. 

The announcement that the world-class violinist would be coming to the Provo, Utah, campus came May 7, 2019. The philharmonic didn’t put on its annual fall performance last year in order to better prepare for the Perlman concert. Since November, the musicians have rehearsed twice a week, practicing not only the Beethoven Concerto but also the two pieces they will perform during the concert’s first half. 

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With Perlman’s performance coming during the first week of a new semester, Katseanes was concerned the philharmonic musicians would be a little out of practice after the long Christmas break. But Monday’s practice showed him otherwise. 

“(The) rehearsal was spectacular,” he said. “We know that we want to play up to his standards and are accepting no excuses that we’re students and so we don’t have to play good or we can’t play good. We’re holding ourselves to a professional standard.” 

The philharmonic gets one 80-minute rehearsal with Perlman, on Thursday afternoon. Most of it will be spent going over the violinist’s tempos. 

And then five hours later, it’ll be showtime. 

‘Hottest ticket in Utah’

Perlman’s upcoming performance marks one of the fastest-selling concerts in BYU history. 

“The minute they announced it, tickets just took off,” Katseanes said. “I mean, tickets just went through the roof and for the last few months have been sold out. This is a hard ticket to get — the hottest ticket in Utah for sure.”

Katseanes appreciates the high demand for tickets — and not just because it means his musicians will be performing for a sold-out audience.

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“It’s inspiring to think of all these people who are coming, and more who wanted to come — many, many more who wanted to come,” he said. “To me that says a lot about the health of the arts in Utah and the love of great classical music in Utah. This is a community that knows.” 

When Perlman takes the stage to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the BYU Philharmonic  — the piece commemorates Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday later this year — Katseanes said it’ll be a performance that not only makes “the dreams of students come true,” but also one that will be “life-changing” for those attending. 

American-Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman laughs during rehearsal at Teresa Carreno Theatre in Caracas, Venezuela.
Itzhak Perlman will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at Brigham Young University on Jan. 9, 2020. | Fernando Llano, Associated Press

“We’re paying tribute to him, not just music and not just Beethoven, but Perlman and what he’s represented and how he’s been an ambassador for music and how it changes lives,” he said. “It’s just a great opportunity for us to hear him, but also to say ‘thank you.’”