Wednesday night was an evening that Tom and I will always treasure. Last summer, some friends invited us to dinner and afterward, a concert with violin legend, Itzhak Perlman in a one night only gala performance with the Milwaukee Symphony. The concert was not until January, 2013.
The concert was like a little gem on the calender as the months ticked by. Wednesday evening finally arrived. The concert was reviewed here and here, but in the end, it is the concertgoer who walks away with the true meaning and impression of a performance.
We began the evening in a cozy corner booth of Milwaukee’s outstanding German restaurant, Karl Ratzsch’s. Nothing is more authentically our home town than Ratzsch’s with its Old World architecture and food. Good conversation with interesting people is one of life’s true blessings. When you leave wishing you had 2 more hours to spend, it’s a joy.
We made our way to the Marcus Center and our friends directed us to our seats. Due to their amazing generosity, we had seats on the front row of the box section for a perfect view of the stage! I’ve been in Uihlein Hall many times in my life, but never with seats like those.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The conductor, Francesco Lecce-Chong, made the familiar notes sound fresh again. I never tire of hearing this music that has stood the test of time. The MSO was all energy and precision. It was excellent.
After intermission, it was time to return to our wonderful seats for the highlight of the evening. Itzhak Perlman made his way to the small platform near the podium where the conductor stands. Due to contracting polio as a child, he performs sitting down.
In his hand was his nearly 300-year-old Soil Stradivarius which he handed to Concertmaster, Frank Almond, as he got settled in his chair. In Frank’s other hand was the Lipinski Strad that he plays. What hands full of history he had at that moment!
Almond got a laugh from the audience as he pretended to switch Strads back and forth before handing the famous instrument to Perlman.
I won’t make an attempt to describe technical aspects of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Far more able people can do that. I will say that the sound of that fiddle, said to have the greatest voice of any of the “Golden Era” Strads, in the hands of the master was unforgettable. That violin sings like no other instrument I have heard, and I have heard a lot of Strads and del Gesu’s in the hands of violinists like Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Joshua Bell, Schlomo Mintz, Rachel Barton, and Young Uck Kim, not to mention hearing the Lipinski played by Frank Almond in recital.
Perlman’s incomparable sound on that instrument made its way to every corner of Uihlein Hall. What an honor to be there and hear this amazing man who has overcome physical hardships to bring the world such music. For us, the ovation we gave was about more than the virtuosity of his performance. It was an honor to stand an applaud someone whose legacy to the world is pure beauty.
Before Perlman stepped down from the small platform where he sat, he handed his Strad to Frank Almond again. Tom leaned over and said (jokingly), “Almond has never been worth more than he is right now!” Those historic violins together were a priceless combination, literally and figuratively.
The evening was priceless. We are still astonished at the kindness of our friends who gave us this unexpected and thoroughly enriching evening of not only their company and dinner, but the gift of music.
Do you know what God showed us once again through Wednesday night’s concert? We live in a world of great evil, where so much innocence and loveliness and hope is crushed out by sin. But in the midst of all of that, God, the source of all goodness and beauty and truth, continues to give us light and hope and reminders of His presence, through the kindness of others and through music. That’s why the beauty makers are so important. They continue to point all of us to what is good and lovely and true. God is not dead, nor does he sleep, goes the line from the familiar carol. And his gifts to mankind were in full evidence Wednesday night.
I want to thank our friends publicly for the gift of their company, their generosity and their insight. We are grateful.