Performing Arts

‘Itzhak’ brings violin virtuoso’s inspiring story to the big screen

Violinist Itzhak Perlman, seen here at home, is the subject of a new documentary that begins May 4 at the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport.
Violinist Itzhak Perlman, seen here at home, is the subject of a new documentary that begins May 4 at the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport. Greenwich Entertainment

Kansas City has had a love affair with violinist Itzhak Perlman since he first appeared on the Harriman-Jewell Series in 1971. He has performed in Kansas City 11 times, with another scheduled for 2019. Perlman’s many local fans will get a chance to learn more about his extraordinary life when the documentary “Itzhak” opens May 4 at the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport.

The film, directed by Alison Chernick, follows Perlman from his birth in Tel Aviv to parents who emigrated from Poland, to his struggle with polio, which struck him when he was 4 years old, to his ultimate triumphs. Along the way, Perlman, ever the raconteur, shares his wisdom and humor.

“It’s a very joyous, likable film, like Perlman is,” said Tivoli owner Jerry Harrington. “It’s an opportunity to hang out with a wonderful guy who’s also a musical genius.

“There’s archival footage, like the famous moment when he’s on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ when he was 13 years old. There are also more recent performances. It’s the great music that keeps you interested.”

Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, has fond memories of meeting Perlman for the first time when Morris was an intern with the series.

“I remember coming backstage with Richard Harriman (founder of the Harriman-Jewell Series), and Perlman asked me to carry his violin case,” Morris said. “Even then I knew how special that was because he had an amazing Stradivarius. It actually made me pretty nervous.”

Ax, Perlman, and Morris
After Itzhak Perlman (center) performed in Kansas City in 2015, he was joined onstage by pianist Emanuel Ax (left), Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, and a giant birthday cake to celebrate Perlman’s 70th birthday. From the Harriman-Jewell Series

Perlman last appeared on the series in 2015, the week of his 70th birthday. After the performance, a large birthday cake with a violin on top was brought onstage, and the audience sang “Happy Birthday.” There was a sense of familial warmth, which Perlman’s many appearances in Kansas City have fostered.

Perlman’s 12th appearance on the Harriman-Jewell Series in May 2019 will not be a typical recital, Morris said.

Perlman Ad 1971
Itzhak Perlman made his first appearance in Kansas City in 1971. From the Harriman-Jewell Series

“It’s called ‘An Evening With Itzhak Perlman,’ and there will still be serious music as part of the performance, but there will be other elements, with Perlman talking about his career. The audience will get a chance to learn a little bit more about the man behind the violin.”

“Itzhak” is a similar window into Perlman’s world. Harrington says those seeking relief from the cynicism of contemporary life will find it in Perlman’s uplifting story.

“It’s life-affirming and lively,” Harrington said. “That’s what so wonderful about it. In this day and age when so many movies are grim or depressing, this is an enjoyable time. How many dystopian movies can we sit through anymore? How many comic books can we watch? It’s a nice antidote to all the despair.”

Opening May 4. Tivoli Cinemas, 4050 Pennsylvania. $7-$9. 816-561-5222 or tivolikc.com.

Harriman-Jewell Discovery Concerts

The Harriman-Jewell Series has just announced its three free Discovery Concerts for 2018-2019, and, as always, they feature young performers on the cusp of stardom.

▪ Soprano Alyson Cambridge was born and raised in Virginia to parents who emigrated from Ghana. She grew up listening to calypso, reggae and Madonna, but her talent for opera was discovered early and she began taking voice lessons at 12.

She has won the 2003 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (the competition’s youngest grand prize winner ever), first prize in the 2003 Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Voice Competition, first prize in the 2004 George London Foundation Awards and the Régine Crespin Award at the 2008 Elardo International Opera Competition.

▪ Pianist Nathan Lee won first prize in the 2016 Young Concert Artists International Auditions at 15 and has performed as a soloist with orchestras around the world.

▪ Violinist Bella Hristova was born in Bulgaria, but her talent took her to the Curtis Institute and eventually Indiana University, where she studied with famed violinist Jaime Laredo. Hristova has also won a slew of awards and has appeared as a soloist as well as with orchestras around the world.

All three artists are bursting with talent, and they’re already becoming marquee names. As always, kudos to the Harriman-Jewell Series (with help from the National Endowment for the Arts) for making these concerts absolutely free.

Sept. 22: Soprano Alyson Cambridge (Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St.)

Oct. 13: Pianist Nathan Lee (Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. W. 47th St.)

Nov. 9: Violinist Bella Hristova with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City (Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)

Audra McDonald

It’s not hyperbole to say that Audra McDonald is a living legend. A two-time Grammy winner, a two-time Emmy nominee for her work as an actress and winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, McDonald, 47, has a firmly established place in the show biz pantheon.

The charismatic and versatile entertainer will appear for one night only with the Kansas City Symphony on May 5 at Helzberg Hall. It promises to be an event her many fans will not want to miss. McDonald will sing what she sings so well, selections from the Great American Songbook.

8 p.m. May 5. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $55-$99. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.

Gamelan Genta Kasturi

Puspanjali5
Gamelan Genta Kasturi will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a program of Balinese music and dance at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Sunday, April 29. EG Schempf

Kansas City became home to a golden treasure, Gamelan Genta Kasturi, in 2003, when gamelan master I Ketút Gedé Asnawa founded the ensemble that performs the magical, percussive music of Bali. The University of Missouri-Kansas City also commissioned the group’s gorgeous 25 instruments, including the golden cases for the chimes, which depict the Hindu epic poem the Ramayana.

Gamelan Genta Kasturi will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a program of Balinese music and dance Sunday, April 29, at the Atkins Auditorium in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The group will perform a dance-drama taken from the Ramayana, as well as traditional dances and music old and new, including a work by the ensemble’s current director, Patrick Alonzo Conway.

To learn more about Gamelan Genta Kasturi and see images of its amazing instruments, visit gamelangentakasturi.org.

2 p.m. April 29. Atkins Auditorium, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St. Free but you must reserve your tickets online at nelson-atkins.org/events/performance-gamelan-genta-kasturi-15th-anniversary-concert.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

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