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Year in Review: A quarter century of bringing beauty

Over 300 supporters of the Perlman Music Program (PMP) gathered at its campus overlooking Crescent Beach to celebrate its 25th Anniversary Gala on July 26.

Founders Toby and Itzhak Perlman welcomed Islanders and friends, alumni, faculty and founders from all over the world who gathered to recognize the culmination of what was once just “Toby’s dream.”

“I’m thrilled that you’re here to help us celebrate 25 years of the Perlman Music Program,” said Ms. Perlman at a cocktail reception under the concert tent. “What do we do? Why is it so special? We help to foster the talent and spirits of extremely gifted young string players.”

As Ms. Perlman’s dream lives on through its silver anniversary, the Perlmans and their world-class faculty have spent another summer guiding about 40 talented young string players in pursuing their goals.

The sold-out event featured a beachfront reception, choral and orchestral performances, a silent auction and the “Taste of Shelter Island” dinner with offerings from numerous Island eateries.

Maestro Patrick Romano opened the concert, conducting choral renditions by Bach and Beethoven, which Mr. Perlman joined. Mr. Perlman opened his orchestral performance with charm and humor recalling some of the last 25 years.

“We’re going to play some good music for you,” Mr. Perlman said. “It’s terrific to bring some of the old guys to play — well, they’re not very old, we’ve only been around 25 years.”

Along with an orchestra composed of PMP students (aka “Littles”), and six Program alumni, Mr. Perlman captivated the audience with pieces by Mozart and Vivaldi.

The silver anniversary gala raised over $700,000 thanks to generous donors — plus a surprise anonymous match from one, to help close out the auctions. All proceeds support the students of the Program, according to Emma Leinhaas, PMP production coordinator.

Those students are able to return to camp each summer until they’re 18. According to Ms. Perlman: “Once they’re in, they’re in.”

“The secret to our success is the size. It’s not easy keeping it below 40 students, but it would be very different with a big operation,” she said. “This way, we really get to focus on the kids and their needs.”

According to Ms. Perlman, relaxing and having fun are two of those needs.

“Many of these kids are from pressure-cooker homes, where they’re the star,” she said. “They practice here, but we also want to see kids be kids.”

Those needs are met with support systems, such as the newly implemented wellness class that teaches pilates and other methods for self-care, plus practice-free Sundays meant “just for having fun.”

“It’s the second chapter of my life,” Ms. Perlman told the Reporter on the PMP campus before the concert.

The first chapter, she said, was raising the five children she and Mr. Perlman had in New York City before embarking on a journey to create a world-class summer camp that began when their youngest daughter was 10.

In 1994, the Perlmans opened their East Hampton home and arranged a local camp to host a two-week summer program for gifted teenage musicians called the Hamptons Summer Music Festival.

“We had an opportunity and we grabbed it,” Ms. Perlman said. “We didn’t really know what we were doing, but our timing was right. It was the end of August so other programs were done and the faculty was free to join us.”

With producer Suki Sandler handling the fundraising, Ms. Perlman’s inaugural Summer Music School included morning practice hours, private lessons, orchestra and chorus in a comprehensive musical curriculum unchanged to this day.

By 2000, a group of donors purchased the Peconic Lodge property above Crescent Beach and the former girls’ camp was transformed into the PMP campus. In 2003, Merry Peckham was tapped to lead the Chamber Music Workshop and they added residencies in Israel and Sarasota, Fla.

In 2012, thanks to a gift from Kristy and James H. Clark, PMP tore down one of its original dormitories and built the Clark Arts Center with a recital hall and living and practice spaces. And in 2016, the Stires-Stark Alumni Recital Series was founded to give alumni opportunities to perform at the Center for PMP’s East End audiences.

A quarter of a century later, over 650 musicians have studied at PMP.

“It’s like a family,” Ms. Perlman said. “A small one. We know who’s wearing nail polish and who isn’t, whose mother called in the morning and who has a boyfriend. Friendships are formed here that last a lifetime.”

In the fall, an alumni retreat invites past campers back to play chamber music and develop their community engagement skills, so concerts for Islanders will continue.

“I can’t believe how 25 years have passed in the blink of an eye. I’m in awe of the people who pushed my dream along when it was in its infancy,” Ms. Perlman said. “They loved and believed in us from the very beginning when it was just a dream and I can’t thank you enough.”