Over more than 25 years of creating an oasis of music on Shelter Island, the summer program founded by Toby and Itzhak Perlman has made a connection with nearly every Islander.
That bond was strengthened recently when the Perlman Music Program offered free concerts online, one late last month and three more in April, virtual gatherings of young artists to perform works in progress as well as footage from the program’s 2018 trip to Greece.
The idea grew from the challenge of not being able to gather in the New York City space where they had planned to perform; then they realized a virtual concert could bring in musicians from all corners to be shared with those who were isolated during this difficult time.
More than 2,000 viewers tuned in to their virtual Works in Progress concert last month for inspiring performances and personal messages from PMP students and alumni in New York City, Israel, France and Canada. For information, visit perlmanmusicprogram.org.
When the PMP camp was founded, Itzhak Perlman was already a renowned violinist who was able to attract elite musicians as faculty for the summer program. But it was his wife Toby who had a strong vision of what the musical camp for young people could be.
“We used music as an excuse to build a community,” she said. “That community has now grown to hundreds of alumni, many professional musicians, all sharing a strong connection to the Perlmans and Shelter Island.
Ms. Perlman has expressed a philosophy that in their formative years, young music students need so much more than tutoring and practice. All the activities that children and youth enjoy in the summers should help to round out the students’ experience.
She said they deliberately keep the group small and non-competitive.
“Our numbers work for us,” she said. “Having that kind of intimacy is rare. The kids grow up together, returning for years, cementing friendship. Wherever they go, all over the world, their summers are indelibly impressed on them. They grew up together in a magical place.”
Through the years, Shelter Islanders have enjoyed not only attending the PMP concerts in a tent, but walking along Crescent Beach and hearing music wafting from a cabin. There, a young student practices diligently, while enjoying the beautiful view and breezes from the bay.
“Shelter Island has been the greatest gift, the most perfect place we could have found,” Ms. Perlman said.
She spoke of being in touch recently with a group of 30-year-old alumni. “They put themselves together as a group,” she said. “Now they have children of their own. It’s fascinating to watch them interact.”
Recently, the program staff organized a surprise party for Ms. Perlman’s birthday, with 80 alumni attending on Zoom.
Her family is weathering the COVID-19 crisis like many others are, she said, by maintaining isolation, although she acknowledged it was “weird, not to be with my own children. We have family Zoom sessions. They’re hard to schedule because people are in different time zones. We’re a close family — in addition to our children we have 12 grandchildren. They run the gamut from age 20 down to 2 and-half — and I don’t think we’re through yet.”
While music provides comfort for many people, Itzhak Perlman turns to cooking for relaxation, she said. “He always does the cooking,” she laughed. He is also busy teaching, while Ms. Perlman fills her time planning for the next season at PMP. No one knows, she said, what the summer will bring, but she is proceeding “as if…”
“We’re counting on it,” she added. “Let’s hope.”