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I’VE JUST heard the most marvelous Itzhak Perlman recording of Camille Saent-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and it has instantly risen high on my Christmas/Hanukkah list, both as gift and hint.

Itzhak Perlman, Israeli-American violinist, conductor, and music teacher, Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee 2015. Photo by Noah Perlman.

Itzhak Perlman is a national treasure. Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, Itzhak wanted to play the violin at age three, but was thwarted by conservatory types for being too young. Instead, he taught himself on a toy fiddle.

At age four, he was stricken by polio, from which he got along walking with crutches and, today, by riding an Amigo electric scooter.

The hindrance didn’t hamper Itzhak’s career as a musical prodigy. By age 10, he was giving recitals; not long afterward, he was admitted to the Juilliard School in New York.

Itzhak Perlman, age 13, is congratulated by Ed Sullivan after a concert at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, 1958.

Itzhak’s first appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan TV show was in 1958, followed by a second visit in 1964, where, at age 19, he was on a double bill with the Rolling Stones.

Talk about long hairs.

Perlman’s honors and awards occupy almost an entire page of Wikipedia, among them 16 Grammys, culminating in a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Perlman at the White House in 2007.

Perlman played at a White House state dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. He performed at the 2009 inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama. In a 2015 session on New York City’s WQXR classical radio station, it was revealed that he also had an (uncredited) gig on Billy Joel’s 1989 “The Downeaster Alexa” hit song.

What a wonderful career!

Saent-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals / Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, narration by Itzhak Perlman; Katia & Marielle LaBeque, pianos; Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, conductor; Warner Classics, 2015.

Perlman narrates the Saent-Saëns work by interspersing the poetry of another favorite of mine, Ogden Nash. In 1949, Nash was commissioned to write a set of verses for a Columbia Masterworks recording of The Carnival of the Animals.

Quite independent of Saent-Saëns’ whimsical score, the Ogden Nash verses as read by Itzhak Perlman make the CD a perfect gift (and a real keeper).

Here are samples of the verses: “Elephants are useful friends,/Equipped with handles at both ends./They have a wrinkled moth-proof hide./Their teeth are upside down, outside./If you think the elephant is preposterous,/You’ve probably never seen a rhinosterous.”

“Puccini was Latin; and Wagner Teutonic,/And birds are incurably philharmonic,/Suburban yards and rural vistas/Are filled with avian Andrew Sisters./The skylark sings a roundelay,/The crow sings ‘The Road to Mandalay.’/
The nightingale sings a lullaby,/And the seagull sings a gullaby./That’s what shepherds listened to in Arcadia,/Before somebody invented the radia.”

For the complete set of verses, see To sample the CD, check out The Swan and The Cuckoo.

Huzzahs for Itzhak Perlman, Ogden Nash, and Camille Saent-Saëns! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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