Violinist Itzhak Perlman Gets Quizzed On Ron Perlman

Mar 28, 2014
Originally published on March 29, 2014 9:25 am

Violinist Itzhak Perlman has played for presidents and the Queen of England, but the high point of his career is obviously for him to be right here, playing the NPR news quiz.

We've invited him to play a game called "You're no Hellboy." Three questions for Izhak Perlman about actor Ron Perlman from Hellboy, Beauty and the Beast and Sons of Anarchy.

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And now the game where we assemble the greatest talents in the world of science, scholarship and the arts, and we make them answer questions unbecoming their exalted status. It's Not My Job. These days the words maestro, virtusoso and prodigy get thrown around pretty easily. So do the words claymation and uncoupling, but that's not my point.


PESCA: Because violinist Itzak Perlman is a maestro, a virtuoso and a prodigy. He's played for presidents and the Queen of England. But of course the culmination of a career that's taken Itzak Perlman around the world is for him to be right here, right now, with us. Itzhak Perlman welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!


ITZHAK PERLMAN: Thank you, thank you so much.

PESCA: So I always like to get into the origin story, and from what I understand, and you fill in what I don't understand, as a boy in Israel you so badly wanted to play the violin, but you were turned away from the conservatory because a three-year-old, you were too small to actually hold a violin. Does Wikipedia have any of that right?

PERLMAN: Where did you read this?

PESCA: I don't know.

PERLMAN: Well, it's actually true. No, I was - you know, I wanted play when I was three, three and a half, you know, and it was a little too early. These days it's actually not. You know, you see a lot - if you look at YouTube, you see a lot of three-year-olds playing. But at that time things were a little more normal, so...

PESCA: So there you were. You were, as a young child, you were denied, and you wanted to do it, and you were denied, and you wanted to do it. And I know you teach young children now. Do you think that there's something to, you know, crafting greatness to make the barrier to entry into a field even a little bit harder than it is now?

PERLMAN: Well, no, I mean, I don't really - I mean the teaching, I mean I enjoy teaching young kids. You know, we have a program that my wife started called the Perlman Music Program, where I teach young, promising string players. And I think that, you know, when you have the talent, it's good. You know, it's easy.

But, you know, talent is - the level right now of playing is so high, and everybody, now there are a lot of people who really play so well. So that - I don't think that's a problem. I think that's very good.

ROY BLOUNT JR.: Do you enjoy playing other instruments, banjo, something like that?

PERLMAN: No, I'm just a one-instrument player. I've been known to play a blender.


PERLMAN: But, you know, but I basically play, just play the violin.

PESCA: And what's your opinion on the electric violin?

PERLMAN: It's OK, as long as you can play it well. You know, I mean, if you play something well, I don't care what it is. I mean, I don't play - I tried. It's actually interesting. That's all I can say about it.


PERLMAN: I'm an acoustical person.

PESCA: And how often? Is this like a once-a-day, once-a-week thing that you're asked to play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"?


PERLMAN: Well once a year, and today is the day.


PESCA: And following up on that question, if you were asked to fiddle against the devil, where you were wagering your soul, what prize would you ask for in return?

PERLMAN: A good meal at some nice restaurant, I guess.

PESCA: That's confidence, people, soul against a good meal.


PESCA: Who would sound better, the second-best violin in the world as played by the best player or the best violin in the world as played by the second-best player?

PERLMAN: It's the other one.

PESCA: Yeah.


PERLMAN: Playing is playing. You know, they tell a very funny story about the great Jascha Heifetz. You know, he played a concert, and the lady came backstage, and she said to him Mr. Heifetz, you violin sounded so good tonight. And he picked up the violin, and he said funny, I don't hear anything.



PESCA: So when you teach a young child, even an older child, how can you tell if he or she is great or is going to be great?

PERLMAN: Well first of all, there is an innate musicality that you hear immediately, you know, and it doesn't matter the level of playing, but you can already hear that something there, that they are being affected by the music. You know, sometimes, you know, when we see tapes of people who want to come into our program, we see even the look on the face when they hear a particular harmony. That already tells you that somebody has got this musical feel.

You know, and of course the passion is very, very important, and that's really, it's something that you can't really describe. You have to sort of hear it in order to see what it is. And then of course there is the challenge of the development. You know, if you hear somebody who's 12 who's amazing, you say to yourself, you know, I hope that they've survived their gift and that they continue to be amazing when they're 18 and 19 years old. You know, that's always a problem, how you develop through these years.

PESCA: Yeah, that's actually pretty profound and inspiring, and it brings me back to the idea of a fiddle made of gold. Let's just do the math for a second. Now the density of gold is 35 times the density of wood, and a fiddle or a violin weighs about 400 grams. So a fiddle made of gold would weigh about 30 pounds. At a price of $42 per gram, right now a fiddle made of gold would be worth $588,000.

My question to you is: How much is your Stradivarius worth?



PESCA: And besides, you know, with a fiddle of gold, I'm going to have to be strictly playing heavy repertoire, so, you know, like Brahms and Beethoven.


JR.: Willie Nelson's guitar has got friends' autographs all over it. Do you do anything like that?



JR.: All right.

PERLMAN: Very funny.


JR.: OK, if you're on a desert island, and the only instrument there was a banjo?


PERLMAN: What would I do?

JR.: Yeah.

PERLMAN: I don't know. I'll try and find something to eat.


PESCA: All right, well let's play. Itzhak Perlman, let's play a game that we're calling...

CARL KASELL: You're no Hellboy.

PESCA: Sure, you may be an expert - I'm going to say you are an expert on Itzhak Perlman, but how much do you know about the actor Ron Perlman, of "Hellboy" and "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sons of Anarchy"? We're going to ask you three questions about the craggy-faced actor, answer two of them correctly, and you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Itzhak playing for?

KASELL: Itzhak is playing for Betsy Doud of Niles, Michigan.

PESCA: All right you ready to play?

PERLMAN: OK, Betsy, let's go.

PESCA: Let's go, Betsy. Here is your first question. In addition to playing the beast, Ron Perlman is perhaps best known for playing Hellboy in the Hellboy series. Big fans of those movies can do what: A, attend Hellboy Summer Camp, where they learn to track supernatural beings; B, get a Hellboy permit from the Presbyterian church, allowing them to say the H-word without punishment; or C, get special edition Hellman's Hellboy's Mayonnaise, which is red but still tastes like mayonnaise? What do you think?

PERLMAN: Well, I'll tell you, you know, I mean if I was following what my brain tells me, I would say three because it involves the mayonnaise. However, I would take a chance on number one.

PESCA: The summer camp?


PESCA: You are correct.



PERLMAN: Thank you.

PESCA: There is a Hellboy Summer Camp outside of Portland. So as we mentioned before, Ron Perlman is known for his distinctive face. When you Google Ron Perlman looks like, which of these is a way Google finishes the phrase for you? Ron Perlman looks like: A, Rhea Perlman; B, Donkey Kong; C, an Easter Island head?


PERLMAN: Oh my God.


PERLMAN: I can tell you Rhea Perlman is absolutely no. so we know, so it's between two and three. Can you give me the two and the three again, please?

PESCA: Do you think, or you do think that Google things, that Ron Perlman looks like Donkey Kong or an Easter Island head?

PERLMAN: Easter Island head or Donkey Kong? What's Donkey Kong?


PERLMAN: Is Donkey Kong a game?

PESCA: It's a video game with a large-faced ape.

PERLMAN: OK, that's what I'm going to say.

PESCA: You're right; it is Donkey Kong.



PESCA: I don't know, parents. I mean, wouldn't you rather have your kids know about video games from the '80s than be the world's greatest violinist?

PERLMAN: I forgot about those games. I mean, you know, I've already forgotten them. I'm now into the sugar crash or whatever you call that.


PESCA: Candy Crush, yeah. Sorry, the maestro could not play tonight; he's just exploding bananas on Level 243.

PERLMAN: I wish.


PESCA: Ron Perlman is not only an actor, he's also directed episodes of "Beauty and the Beast," and runs his own production company. How does Ron Perlman describe his directing style: A, I like to lure actors in with the beauty, then show them the beast; B, I don't like working with me. I would punch myself in the mouth if I had to take my direction; C, I honestly have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm scared. Please, don't publish this?

PERLMAN: It's probably wrong; I'll take two.

PESCA: That is correct, letter B.



PESCA: He's punch himself in the mouth. Fortunately for Ron Perlman, he looks like someone who can take a punch.


PESCA: Carl, how did Itzhak do?

KASELL: Three correct answers, so Itzhak you win for Betsy Doud, congratulations.

PESCA: You did it, Itzhak, thank you so much.


PESCA: Congratulations. I'm sure this ranks right up there with all the achievements and the presidents and the queens and the awards.

PERLMAN: Tell me, what does Betsy win? You know, I want to know. I'm so curious.

PESCA: Carl's voice on the answering machine and a free pass to Candy Crush Level 243.


PESCA: Perlman is hosting Bows & Batons, a four day music retreat at Gideon Putnam Resort in New York. Itzhak Perlman, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

PERLMAN: Thank you so much.


PESCA: In just a minute, Carl dons some Axe Body Spray in our listener limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT, to join us on air.

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