05/26/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT
I plucked—and boom," explains Itzhak Perlman. The celebrated Israeli violinist was just beginning an arrangement of Manuel de Falla's La Vida Breve, his first encore during an SRO recital at Carnegie Hall, when the E string on his $400,000 Stradivarius suddenly snapped. The audience gasped. Perlman, 34, who breaks two or three strings a year (but, horrors, not in Carnegie Hall), retreated to the wings. Then, fearing the crowd might think he was through for the night, Perlman returned stage center with a string he had fished out of his violin case and replaced it while chatting with the intrigued audience. "A little bit of informality is nice," Perlman observed later. "It cuts down on the artificial barrier between the stage and the audience." Had the accident occurred later in the encore, Perlman said, he could have finished with only three strings. But once the instrument was restrung, he played another 15 minutes—proving that the best musicians can always string along an audience.