Great Performers – Perlman, Izotov and the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor and guest violinist Itzhak Perlman – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Usually appearing with the San Francisco Symphony as a guest soloist, violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman fulfills the dual role of conductor and guest artist this week, in a program in which he’s joined by another soloist, the Symphony’s superb Principal Oboe, Eugene Izotov, in a performance of the Concerto for Oboe and Violin by J S Bach. Also on the program are Tchaikovsky’s exquisite Serenade for Strings, and Sir Edward Elgar’s delightful Enigma Variations.

Itzhak Perlman is well known and loved for his artistic brilliance, his joy in music making, and his natural warmth and humanity. His achievements are legion. He has appeared with every major orchestra, and at leading festivals, conducted many of the world’s finest orchestras, and collaborated with some of the most illustrious conductors.

He is the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor for his achievements and contribution to the cultural and educational life of the United States, as well as a number of honorary degrees, an honorary doctorate and medal awarded at the Juilliard Centennial, a Medal of Liberty, and the National Medal of Arts. Winner of fifteen Grammy Awards, Maestro Perlman has also been honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in the recording arts.

He has performed at a State Dinner at the White House for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, at the 78th Academy Awards ceremony – performing a medley of all five nominated film scores – and collaborated with composer John Williams, performing the violin solos for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List.  His documentary film, Itzhak, is currently on circuit around the country.

Oboist Eugene Izotov – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Eugene Izotov has been the principal oboist at the San Francisco Symphony since 2014, prior to which he held this position at the Metropolitan Opera, and before that at the Chicago Symphony – the first Russian-born musician in history to hold a principal wind position in any major American symphony orchestra. The Washington Post writes of his “ravishing playing”, The Classical Voice of Rome describes him as “Incomparable” and the Chicago Tribune states that “There is no finer oboist around”.

Mr Izotov has also appeared with the Boston Symphony, MET Chamber Ensemble, Pacific Music Festival Orchestra, and conductors such as Bernard Haitink, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, Nicholas McGegan, Edo De Waart, Ludovic Morlot and Ton Koopman. A teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory, he has also served on the faculty of The Juilliard School and DePaul University, and he currently presents master classes at conservatories across the United States and abroad.

He shares with Itzhak Perlman an achievement a little unusual among classical musicians – he, too, has collaborated with John Williams for a Steven Spielberg film – this one being the Oscar-nominated production Lincoln.

The program opens with Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Oboe, Violin and Orchestra, about which Eugene Izotov has an amusing anecdote. “The second movement,” he says, “starts with an iconic, near-three-minute melody played by the oboe. This solo is guaranteed to be on every oboe audition list. In fact, the great violinist Pablo de Sarasate declined to perform this piece, famously commenting that he didn’t want to play a violin concerto where ‘the best melody is played by the oboe instead of the violin’.”

San Francisco Ballet’s Sofiane Sylve in Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

It’s no wonder that Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is such a beautiful work – the composer who poured so much of himself into almost everything he wrote, described it as “entirely heartfelt” – and it is. Modest as always – and ever critical of his own creative genius – he also added that he dared to think it as being “not entirely without its merits”.  In a ringing endorsement, the work was considered a popular triumph at its formal premiere in St Petersburg in October 1882, and even the formerly critical Anton Rubinstein was quoted as telling Tchaikovsky’s friend and publisher, Pyotr Jurgenson, that this was the best thing Tchaikovsky had written. Serenade for Strings has also been immortalized in the world of ballet by George Balanchine in his supremely lovely work, Serenade, recently performed by San Francisco Ballet.

The final work on the program is Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, popularly known as the Enigma Variations. This work, “Commenced in a spirit of humor & continued in deep seriousness” according to the composer, acquired its moniker from Elgar himself, since, by his own admission, it contained two separate examples of an enigma. Each of the fourteen movements in some way describes a friend of his – and since he attached the relative initials to each piece, that enigma was easily solved – but he refused to explain the second, simply referring to it as a “dark saying”. For all that, however, it’s a lovely lyrical work, so much so that British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton created Enigma Variations for The Royal Ballet, with this work as the score.

Itzhak Perlman leads the San Francisco Symphony in works by J S Bach, Tchaikovsky and Elgar. He is joined as guest artist by oboist Eugene Izotov at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday 17th, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th May. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Multi-award-winning soprano Audra McDonald – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

And while we’re at Davies Symphony Hall, on Friday, May 18th, multi-award-winning star Audra McDonald performs with the San Francisco Symphony in a program of Broadway classics and pieces from contemporary musical theater. More detail and information on tickets can be found on the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Artists’ websites:

Itzhak Perlman
Eugene Izotov

and San Francisco Symphony program notes by Michael Steinberg:

J S Bach – Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin

Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings

Sir Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations


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