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Southold fifth-grader plays under Itzhak Perlman’s baton

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTOSofia Bartolani, age 10 of Southold.

Sofia Bartolani stood toward the middle of the line last week, viola in hand, anxiously awaiting her upcoming performance. Joining 48 other students in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Ode to Joy,” Sofia was about to be conducted by classical music icon Itzhak Perlman. 

As he does each year, Mr. Perlman invited music students from across Long Island to perform at Southold High School with students who are enrolled in his summer classes at The Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island, where he also has a home.

Mr. Perlman, 70, is a world-renowned violinist who has won multiple Grammy and Emmy awards and played at President Obama’s 2009 inaugural dinner, among other notable venues.

Ten-year-old Sofia, of Southold, who also played under Mr. Perlman’s tutelage last summer at Greenport High School, said she was more excited for her second show with him.

“I learned a lot last year,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Having performed at numerous school concerts and in Italy — she’s the daughter of pianist Paolo Bartolani — Sofia added that Mr. Perlman is the most notable person she’s played for.

Last Thursday marked the fifth year Mr. Perlman has performed with local students chosen by East End Arts. Diane Giardi, education director at East End Arts, said the 49 performers, who came from over 20 Long Island towns, learned about the opportunity through an open call the organization put out to all strings musicians ages 8 to 18.

“They all play the same song,” Ms. Giardi said of the open rehearsal, which included both Mr. Perlman’s summer students and those selected by East End Arts. “Jeannie [Woelker, an East End Arts faculty member] decides on the song and arranges it. And then the Perlman students learn the same piece, so when they play together it’s as if they’ve been practicing together. It sounds so beautiful.”

Having met the entire group only as they filed into the auditorium, Mr. Perlman began by conducting only Ms. Woelker’s students in the Beethoven piece. He then asked them to join his own students for two more run-throughs.

“I liked that,” he said of the first performance. “That was good. It sounds really good. Very terrific.”

The Perlman Music Program students sat on the stage while the East End Arts performers, all clad in white shirts and black pants, stood in a half-circle directly in front of the stage, facing Mr. Perlman and his orchestra.

Following the three rehearsal renditions of “Ode to Joy,” the famed conductor held a question-and-answer session with the East End Arts students, about one-third of whom also played under Mr. Perlman’s baton last summer.

He fielded questions about what he liked to teach most, the most challenging piece he’s played and the piece that was his favorite to play as a child.

But for Sofia, the only student from the North Fork, the best part was getting another opportunity to play the instrument she loves with a different group of people.

“I’m excited to see Mr. Perlman again and to play,” she said before the open rehearsal. “I like the sound of it.”

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Caption: Sofia Bartolani on the evening of the event. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)