Program brings the world’s best young musicians to Sarasota

Itzhak Perlman conducts a celebration concert for the Perlman Music Program in Sarasota.
Itzhak Perlman conducts a celebration concert for the Perlman Music Program in Sarasota. Provided photo

The idea began when Toby Perlman was a violin student at the Juilliard School in New York. She loved the music and loved the learning, but hated the intensity of the competitive atmosphere. She started thinking about creating an educational environment that would emphasize cooperation over competition.

Those thoughts led, many years later, to the formation of the Perlman Music Program, which trains a few dozen of the finest young string players in the world.

Every winter, students from the program come to Sarasota for a 17-day winter residency program. They’ll arrive this week.

For the students, it means full days of rehearsals, performances and classes with some of the best musicians in the world, including Toby Perlman’s husband, violinist Itzhak Perlman.

For the rest of us, it offers a chance to experience the next generation of classical musicians.

The students are young (18 and under) and still learning, but they play at such a high level that most classical music aficionados would never know that from their playing.

“It’s a very, very high level of musicianship,” said Elizabeth Power, the executive director of the Perlman Music Program/Suncoast. “They sound very professional.”

Over the course of the 17 days through Jan. 6, the public can sit in on rehearsals, master classes and recitals, along with formal concerts. Most of them take place in a tent on the campus of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

Watching master classes and rehearsals may not seem especially edifying to people who haven’t experienced them, but Power said the PMP rehearsals have attracted a devoted following.

“There are some people who never miss a rehearsal,” she said. “But then, of course, there are other people who prefer things that are more polished. The rehearsals appeal to people who are interested in the process.”

Most of the rehearsals are start-and-stop type of affairs, with students playing a piece and the teacher interrupting when he or she has a suggestion. To the lay listener, what the student played may sound perfect, but the teacher can notice something that could be improved.

“You’ll be able it hear it,” Power said. “You can hear the difference.”

It’s free to attend master classes and rehearsals, but for $7.50 you can get into the tent at USFSM a little early and have your choice of seats.

One thing that sets the Perlman Music Program apart from more traditional academic music programs, Power said, is that once a student is accepted, he or she can return every year. That cuts down on the competition that Toby Perlman wanted to discourage.

“It’s extremely competitive to get in, let’s be honest,” Power said. “But once you’re in, it’s like a big family.”

For people who enjoy classical music, it means they can watch students progress over the years as they return for the winter residency, from the time of their childhood into early adulthood.

Besides the young students from the Perlman Music Program, the winter residency features musicians from ages 18-30 from the Perlman Chamber Music Workshop. Another 54 young string players (ages 9-17) from around Florida, including 19 from Manatee and Sarasota counties, have been chosen to perform in a “Super Strings” concert conducted by Itzhak Perlman.

Free events this year include recitals at 5 p.m. Dec. 24, 7 p.m. Dec. 26, 28-29 and Jan. 2 and 5; vocal chorus rehearsals at 5 p.m. Dec. 27-Jan. 5; Orchestra rehearsals at 7 p.m., Dec. 27 and 31 and Jan. 2-3; and master classes on Dec. 29 (cello) and Jan. 3 (viola).

Ticketed events include “Bach to Jazz,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, featuring PMP alumni violinist Sean Lee and pianist Peter Dugan ($15 in advance; $20 at the door); “Super Strings and Orchestra Rehearsal” conducted by Itzhak Perlman, 7 p.m. Dec. 30 ($10); “14th Annual Celebration Concert,” 5:30 p.m. Jan. 4, Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, with Itzhak Perlman conducting the PMP String Orchestra ($40, $60, $80); and the “Chamber Music Works-in-Progress Recital,” 5 p.m. Jan. 6, Neel Performing Arts Center, State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton ($10).

All events are in the tent at USF-SM unless otherwise noted.

Details: Dec. 20-Jan. 6, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota and other locations. Various times. Free ($7.50 for early admission and better choice of seats). Some events require paid tickets. perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org.

Marty Clear: 941-708-7919, @martinclear