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A Celebration of the School of Music with Itzhak Perlman

November 2023 Feature Article

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 edition of the BYU School of Music Journal.

The BYU Music Building buzzed with excitement on October 11 and 12. Itzhak Perlman, an internationally acclaimed violinist and rock star of classical music, was back to perform with the BYU Philharmonic. For decades, Mr. Perlman has performed across the globe for diplomats, world leaders, and celebrities. But for two nights in a row, Mr. Perlman performed in the intimate vineyard-style Concert Hall at BYU for 1,000 lucky audience members.

As the audience took their seats before the performance, they were looking forward to hearing Mr. Perlman play, but what they might not have known is that they were in for a special performance that celebrated the School of Music from start to finish.

The concert, originally planned for February 2023, was rescheduled to October due to delays in construction on the new Music Building. But the original program was preserved: The first half of the concert included two lively pieces that celebrated the composers and faculty who have built the BYU School of Music over the last century. The second half featured Mr. Perlman’s performance of Mendelssohn’s lyrical Concerto for Violin in E Minor with the Philharmonic. Mr. Perlman’s performance was not only an honor but also a celebration of the high musical caliber that the BYU School of Music has achieved over the last century.

Florence and Friends

This celebratory concert began with the debut of Florence and Friends: Re-Sounding Voices, a contemporary composition written by Dr. Stephen Jones that honors past composers from the School of Music. When Dr. Jones began writing the piece, he recalls, “I thought it would be so appropriate to look back as we plan to look forward. Not just to look back, but to listen back, and to think about the shoulders we stand on, and to give gratitude for the people who made the BYU School [of Music] what it is.”

I thought it would be appropriate to look back as we plan to look forward and to give gratitude for the people who made the BYU School [of Music] what it is.
Stephen Jones

To honor these musicians, Dr. Jones researched music written by BYU composers over the last 100 years to find melodic quotes, small sections of pieces, that he could weave together to create a unified whole. Though the piece is written for orchestra, Dr. Jones pulled quotes from many musical genres, including one special quote from a choral work by Florence Jepperson Madsen, who served as the head of the music department from 1920 to 1930. Though Florence wrote the piece in 1956, its words are a fitting dedication for the new Music Building:

“Thy blessing on this house dear Lord,
And bless the earth on which it stands;
For here is a witness to our faith in Thee,
A testament of willing hands; a dream–
A cherished dream come true.”

The orchestra performed Florence and Friends under the baton of Nathan Haines, the new Director of Orchestras at BYU. Dr. Haines worked with Dr. Jones throughout the summer in preparation for the debut. “It’s so beneficial to have the living composer right down the hall from you,” Dr. Haines said, “It’s been a lot of fun to collaborate.”

If you’re going to give the gift of music, you should give it your all.
Nathan Haines

The piece required focus and absolute engagement from each player in the Philharmonic. “If you’re going to give the gift of music, you should give it your all,” says Dr. Haines. “That is the approach I hope to show audience members, that every time this orchestra is on the stage, they’re giving it their all.” And the Philharmonic was fully committed to every note of the piece, enveloping the audience in contemporary harmonies, rich textures, and interlocking rhythms.

Der Rosenkavalier Suite


Next, the Philharmonic performed Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier Suite, conducted by Kory Katseanes, recently retired Director of Orchestras. Originally, Kory was to conduct this concert before he retired, but Dr. Nathan Haines was more than happy to co-conduct the concert with Kory. “It’s a dream come true, as a student of his in the past, to see [Kory] work with the orchestra,” Haines says.

Der Rosenkavalier Suite was the first piece Kory conducted at BYU. Performing it once more with the Philharmonic brought Kory’s career full circle and honored his contributions to the BYU School of Music and the Philharmonic over the past 25 years.

Based on a complete opera, the suite tells the shortened story of two young lovers, Octavian and Sophia, and expresses all the emotions that come with falling in love. For Kory, the emotion portrayed in this piece is extremely special, and says, “[The music] is so heartfelt, so moving, aside from being great melodic writing. [The arias] are full of yearning and longing and achieving a higher level of human relationships.” As the orchestra performed, their playing exuded the emotion that Kory loves in the opera. The musicians’ excitement and passion for their music was evident as they crafted each phrase with feeling, often swaying and moving together to the soaring romantic melodies and harmonies.

Even though Kory knew that these performances would be his last, he was very happy to be back conducting the Philharmonic (or, as he told the audiences, “driving the Ferrari”). Kory says, “It was pure joy to play the music that I love and be with the students that I’ve loved for the last 25 years.”

Collectively, the two pieces on the first half of the program demonstrated the breadth of the Philharmonic’s artistic ability in two very different genres, all while maintaining complete focus and excellent artistry. Before Itzhak Perlman walked on stage, the Philharmonic established that they were a professional orchestra worthy and qualified for such an honor.

Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin


At the end of intermission, there was a final rush for audience members to find their seats, quieting in anxious anticipation as the lights in the Concert Hall dimmed. The hall was silent until Itzhak Perlman appeared on stage, and the audience leapt to their feet, greeting the virtuoso with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Mr. Perlman was born in Israel, and in light of the recent violence consuming his home country, he shared his hope for peace with the audience on Wednesday evening. “It is quite tragic,” he said in a somber tone. “And I hope that this wild violence will stop soon and that we can find some peace.”

After that, Mr. Perlman let his music speak peace to the hearts of the audience.

The lyrical beginning of Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin in E minor sang through the concert hall in a clear, piercing tone. Mr. Perlman’s playing looked and sounded effortless—as natural and easy as breathing. At one point during the solo cadenza, Mr. Perlman lifted his bow from the string for a brief pause—in that moment, it seemed like the audience held its breath, not wanting to shatter the moment of stillness Mr. Perlman created. Throughout the piece, the Philharmonic carefully cradled Mr. Perlman’s solo lines in a rich and perfectly balanced accompaniment. Together, Mr. Perlman and the Philharmonic captivated the audience’s attention as they played. At the conclusion of the piece, the audience applauded Mr. Perlman and the orchestra for nearly ten minutes to express their appreciation for the performance.

Backstage, Mr. Perlman said to Kory, “The orchestra sounded great.” To Kory, the seemingly small complement was extremely meaningful. “He wasn’t surprised, he wasn’t disappointed [by the orchestra’s performance]. In other words, it met his professional standards,” Kory says.

Mr. Perlman may be a man of few words, but he was a delight to work with, says Kory. “Mr. Perlman is a funny, cheerful, and pleasant person. He’s everything you always want from a soloist. He’s one of the greatest, [most] warm-hearted artists that we’ve ever known.”

Mr. Perlman is a funny, cheerful, and pleasant person. He’s one of the greatest, [most] warm-hearted artists that we’ve ever know.
Kory Katseanes

Listening to Mr. Perlman’s music was certainly a joy and privilege for the audience members, but Mr. Perlman’s example of joyful playing is invaluable to the students in the School of Music. “There is so much that students can learn from watching and rubbing shoulders [with Mr. Perlman], … starting with his unbelievable sound. It’s pretty hard to teach a great sound. But if you’ve heard a great sound, now you know how to go searching. Having heard [the “Perlman sound”] gives our students in the School of Music the opportunity to go find it for themselves.”

These concerts featuring Mr. Perlman and the Philharmonic were more than just two highly anticipated sold-out shows. The shows honored the monumental contributions of all the musicians who built the School of Music into the prestigious program it is today. The concerts also celebrated Mr. Perlman’s incredible artistry and allowed the students in the Philharmonic to shine in two incredible performances. Through their excellent playing, the Philharmonic proudly declared that the School of Music is capable of achieving greatness through its music—now and in the years to come.

Click here to read view the November 2023 issue of the BYU School of Music Journal.

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