East End Arts students perform with Itzhak Perlman

For 11 students who play and study string instruments with East End Arts, a Tuesday night rehearsal was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Shelter Island-based Perlman Music Program string orchestra and chorus performed at Southold High School that evening at 7 p.m. But 90 minutes before their concert, the students from Riverhead’s nonprofit East End Arts were invited to join the Perlman performers and their renowned maestro, Itzhak Perlman, for the pre-show rehearsal.

In addition to playing with the elite ensemble, the EEA students and their family members seated in the audience peppered Mr. Perlman with questions. Violinist Liam Kuegel, 11, asked who or what inspired the virtuoso to become a musician. His response: Simply hearing the sound of the violin pierce through the radio as a young boy.

“I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal when I first joined, but I got a little anxious when today came,” Liam said. “And it was just surprising that I got to see someone [like Mr. Perlman].

“I learned that, even if you’re anxious, you should try something and see it for yourself,” he added. “And you should never be afraid of anything.”

Liam’s older sister, Emma Kuegel, had a chance to participate in a similar joint rehearsal in 2019.

“I remember taking away that there’s always someplace to go,” Emma, now 16, recalled. “To me, at that point, there were my goals, and I thought there was a top. Then coming to listen, it reminded me that you can always improve, and there’s always a better group to be with, a better experience to have. It was inspiring.”

The Perlman Music Program trains string players ages 12 to 18 who demonstrate high-caliber talent and who typically go on to study music in top schools and often enjoy lifelong careers in classical music. Its ensemble Tuesday evening featured 35 students from the United States, Israel, Taiwan, Austria, Canada, Norway, South Korea, Hong Kong, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Japan and China. 

Under the tutelage of chorus master Patrick Romano, and accompanied by pianist Luis Ortiz, the students, along with Mr. Perlman and his wife, Toby, who founded the program, sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” and Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s “Mass No. 1.” 

Following a brief pause, the students regrouped with their string instruments, and Mr. Perlman took the stage.

“We’re going to do two pieces for you,” he said. “The first piece is ‘Divertimento’ by Mozart, a youthful work that’s full of humor and lightness and lyricism. I hope you enjoy it.”

Many of the EEA students remained after rehearsal to enjoy the show, but before it began, they shared dinner with the Perlmans and their students in the high school gymnasium. During the mingling, Mr. Perlman signed young Liam’s sheet music with the sage advice “practice slowly.”

“It’s so cool to meet somebody like Itzhak Perlman,” Emma Kuegel said. “There are these classical masters in the music world that everybody always talks about, and you can listen to the recordings and they’re just amazing, peaks of musicianship. To actually sit in the same room as them and hear them talk and realize that they’re a person too, they work with kids, they share the same thing, they eat dinner with us, it’s such a cool thing. It’s a shared passion.”