Playing Chamber Music With The Greats


For cellist Merry Peckham, it all began with a simple telephone call. But when she picked up, she could have never guessed the person on the other end.

It was Toby Perlman—one half of the dynamic duo starring her husband, violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, who together founded the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island.

“After I woke up after I fainted, she started talking to me about her program and that’s how it all started. I became part of this dream, it’s just amazing,” Ms. Peckham said last week during a telephone interview. “I told her at the time, even though I’m 40, I’m still mentally a teenager. I think she really liked that. So I said, ‘I can be pretty silly, except when it comes to chamber music. Then, I’m devoted to it and pretty serious about it.’”

That was 10 years ago. The women hit it off right away, said Ms. Peckham, who established and continues to lead the annual Chamber Music Workshop—an intensive, 2½-week-long program for violinists, violists, cellists and pianists age 18 and up that solely focuses on the study and performance of chamber music literature, she said.

Every year, the program continues to thrive, from its number of participants (this summer reached a record high of 49) to its student and faculty performances. The first of the season are this weekend—Friday, June 7, at the Southampton Cultural Center and Saturday, June 8, at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton.

The performances are purposefully intimate, Mr. Perlman explained in an email last week, though not just for the audience.

“Chamber music is often referred to as ‘the music of friends’ and is among the most cherished and challenging of all classical music repertoire,” he wrote. “One of the reasons I enjoy this annual concert series in the Hamptons so much is that it is a rare opportunity to perform with my fellow colleagues and our young artists.”

Each concert is like a seven-course chef’s choice in an upscale restaurant, Ms. Peckham said. The diner doesn’t know what’s coming, but the various tastes and delicacies swirl around the palate, complementing one other.

The same can be said about the upcoming musical spate the performers have prepared during countless hours of practice on the Shelter Island campus, as well as before arriving from their homes, which range from across the country to China, South Korea, Europe and Israel—homeland to Mr. Perlman, who will close Saturday night’s program with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s string sextet “Souvenir de Florence” alongside his students, according to Ms. Peckham.

“It’s this amazing, beautiful dance movement with the whole idea of people really playing off each other,” she said. “I love the way Itzhak plays this. It’s one of those pieces where it’s hard to sit down after you hear it. I’ve been in love with playing it since I was a child and I never thought I’d be able to work with Itzhak on it like this.”

She laughed to herself and continued, “He’s not just nice. As much as you think he’d be a good guy when he comes on stage and interacts with the audience and plays brilliantly like no one else, he’s even a better guy than you think. He’s just a lovely human being. It’s nothing but a joy to be a part of this family.”

Students and faculty of the Chamber Music Workshop from the Perlman Music Program will kick off their summer concert season on Friday, June 7, at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center. General admission is $50, or $100 for VIP. The series will continue on Saturday, June 8, at 8 p.m. at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton. General admission is $50, or $200 for VIP tickets. Shelter Island concerts will be held through Sunday, June 16. For more information, visit

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