Watch: When Itzhak Perlman played bluegrass with John Denver

(Photo: YouTube)

Itzhak Perlman never fails to charm an audience. With a violin in his hands, he may be one of the world's great communicators.

Perlman turns 69 on Sunday, but with the 20th year of the Perlman Music Program for young string players behind him and a busy concert season as soloist and conductor ahead, he shows little sign of slowing down.

Perlman last played in Colorado in January with the Colorado Symphony. We shared some favorite performances then, including a rendition of Beethoven's "Minuet in G" on Sesame Street. All of the videos showcase his extraordinary expressiveness.

In advance of his birthday this weekend, though, I went looking for more examples of Perlman's joy in making music. I found plenty—including a wonderfully Colorado-centric one: a clip from a 1981 John Denver television special, "Music and the Mountains," filmed in Aspen. Click the video above to view it.

What a charming example of Perlman's musical approach. His primary goal: to communicate the meaning within the notes. Clearly, it works for music of any stripe, whether you play in concert dress or western wear.

As Perlman once told Charlie Rose (about 8 minutes into the video to the right): "I like to talk to music. That's the way I teach. After a while, when you know how to play the instrument, you should forget the instrument. It's now time to talk the music, to talk the phrases. ... When you hear a phrase that you feel is really meaningful, my God, you cannot just play it. You have to speak it."

Happy birthday to Itzhak Perlman!

Listen to The Baroque Show at 10 a.m. Sunday on CPR Classical to hear our birthday salute to Perlman and a classic performance by the legendary violinist.