Unconditional love is rare in classical music, but Itzhak Perlman earned it long ago. He’s also kept it, which was obvious in the connection between the violinist and Tuesday night’s crowd in Verizon Hall.
You felt he could have spent all night schmoozing with the audience without any fraying of the bond.
As it was, though, he kept it short and sweet. The concert, billed as an evening of film music with the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Marin Alsop, was called for 7:30 but didn’t start until 7:45. The orchestra and Alsop performed alone — music from Stravinsky’s The Firebird — until 8:15. Perlman started playing a little after 8:20, and the whole thing was over by 9:05. No encores.
One way of looking at it is if Perlman, 73, had come to play the Tchaikovsky or Mendelssohn concerto, he would have spent less time on stage. But he also would have spent less time talking.
Not that anyone seemed to mind. The event had the feeling of a visit from a favorite uncle so brief you didn’t have time to tire of the jokes.
“Do you know what movie the ‘Theme from Schindler’s List’ is from?” he asked the audience.
In between his trivia questions for Alsop and listeners came brief, charming snippets from films, several by John Williams, in which Perlman provided melodies and embellishments, and the orchestra layered on the lush. This wasn’t a subscription concert, but a one-night-only event with special tickets prices ($95-$175) to benefit the orchestra.
Whether the encounter was worth the price of admission was something for each listener to ponder. Musically, it seemed a little on the slim side.
Perlman played a total of eight excerpts, from films like Cinema Paradiso by Ennio Morricone and Marian and Robin’s love theme from Korngold’s wonderful score to The Adventures of Robin Hood.
There was good reason to have this orchestra along for the ride. The solos that principal hornist Jennifer Montone wove into John Williams’ theme music for Sabrina accounted for much of the magic. The bigness of Out of Africa in a John Williams arrangement of John Barry’s music wouldn’t have been as big with most other ensembles. The orchestrations by Williams of Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By” was a case of luxe moving to ultra-luxe grade by way of this particular orchestra’s power and refinement.
Perlman at this stage isn’t what he once was. His part in Sabrina, which is considerable, had him sounding a bit taxed. But what he’s got he’s got in bushels. For one, he puts across a terrific presence — not just volume, but often a saturation that goes full force to the end of the phrase. And then there’s that silvery tone, which, after all, doesn’t come along often.
Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, opened the program with a fascinating “Bernstein Bouquet” — three short works presented at a Leonard Bernstein 70th birthday celebration at Tanglewood in 1988. Eight musical salutations were part of the original suite. Alsop left aside the Luciano Berio, Leon Kirchner, and others.
The three she chose were witty (what else could they be for Bernstein?), tucking in references to “Happy Birthday” and New York. John Corigliano quoted Copland (Fanfare for the Common Man). John Williams spent his turn on “America” from West Side Story and “New York, New York.”
Toru Takemitsu was the master of the concise, though. Very brief, his birthday greeting fairly sparkled, was quickly taken over by a warm breeze, and then evaporated.