It’s a rare moment when a young musician is able to observe firsthand the foremost practitioner of their craft, but the students in the BYU School of Music’s Philharmonic Orchestra did exactly that as they shared the de Jong Concert Hall stage with top violinist Itzhak Perlman — making BYU history in the process.

“It’s not easy to quantify what this performance means for students in the orchestra, the students in the School of Music, for BYU and for the community,” said Philharmonic director Kory Katseanes. “His is an unequaled reputation in our lifetimes. There’s never been a classical artist as well-known, as beloved as Itzhak Perlman, and the community knows that.”

To this point, the BYU Philharmonic is the only university orchestra scheduled to perform with the 15-time Grammy winner this year — an honor that was not taken lightly by the students in the orchestra.

“As soon as Kory (Katseanes) told us that we would be performing with Itzhak Perlman, we all knew in the back of our minds that we would need to rise to a new level of playing,” said concertmaster Rachel Christensen, a graduate student in violin performance. “Everyone wanted to do their very best for Perlman. It goes beyond a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — it’s something I never imagined would even be a possibility.”

With the most important concert in the history of the Philharmonic on the horizon, Katseanes identified a theme for the year to guide rehearsals and inspire the student musicians: prepare for Perlman.

“We worked harder than we ever have before,” said Katseanes. “We were anxious that when he joined us on stage, he didn’t think of us as a group of kids. We’re not trying to be a good university orchestra — we’re trying to play to professional standards, the highest standards of the art itself.”

The night of the concert, Perlman took the stage to a standing ovation, but during rehearsal that afternoon, he was met with quiet focus from the student musicians.

“As soon as he came out on stage, everyone was silent,” Christensen said. “Rehearsal hadn’t officially started and we could have kept warming up, but it seemed that everyone was reverently acknowledging his presence and that we were ready to rehearse with him.”

Nearly a year of preparation paid off as everything the Philharmonic had planned and practiced came together for a sold-out performance. While Katseanes encouraged the student musicians to carry themselves with the utmost professionalism, he hoped that they also felt the excitement and significance of sharing the stage with Perlman.

“They saw what it’s like from very close up to be the greatest violinist in the world,” said Katseanes. “It’s impossible to overstate the value we attach to this experience. To see this unfold and take shape has been very inspiring and humbling — it’s so much more than just another concert.”

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