It’s not every night one has the opportunity to sit in a living-room atmosphere, with fewer than a hundred other guests, and witness the virtuoso Itzhak Perlman play his beloved three hundred-year-old violin accompanied by Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot for two hours of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Klezmer music.
The Jewish Press was invited to the taping of this musical event, which airs this Thursday, Aug. 28, at 9 p.m. on PBS’s “Great Performances” (check local listings) as “Rejoice With Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.” In the New York metropolitan area, WNET (Channel 13) will first air the program on Sunday, September 21 at 7 p.m.
The venue was a studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market and the audience was largely comprised of close friends of the two impresarios and various VIPs.
The evening started off with the Yiddish favorite “A Dudele.” Almost immediately the audience began singing and clapping and continued almost without stop throughout the rest of the concert.
Helfgot’s magisterial voice scaled Alpine heights, reaching deep into our souls. Perlman demonstrated his great wit and humor, kibbitzing throughout the evening with Helfgot, the Klezmer band, and the audience. This, of course, coupled with his unparalleled talent on the violin.
Whenever a piece was suggested, Perlman would turn to the audience with a sly smile and ask, “Is this part of the davening?”
The evening was full of favorite melodies ranging from prayers to Shabbos and Yom Tov zemiros to popular folk songs.
A funny thing happened at the end of the concert as the audience turned to the exits. The station manager noted to his distress – but to the audience’s delight – that the last song played by Perlman and sung by Helfgot had not been perfectly taped due to some noise and needed to be to be redone. All returned to their seats for another 20 minutes of leibedig and cathartic music.
After the event, The Jewish Press spoke with both Helfgot and Perlman.
Perlman acknowledged he’d never accompanied a chassidic tenor before teaming up with Helgot. “I must tell you,” he said, “that accompanying Itzhak Meir Helfgot is a joy. His ease of delivery with his cantorial voice and his relaxed approach to his chazzanut makes it a pleasure to work with him. We really enjoy each other’s work and each other’s company.”
Asked whether he’d been touched in a special way by working with Helfgot, Perlman responded, “I’m moved by the way he sings, and yes, I have great feelings when I work with him.”
Helfgot returned the compliment, telling The Jewish Press that Perlman “is a pleasure to work with…he is wonderful man.”