World-class violinist Itzhak Perlman, who performs with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Tuesday, says he always hears a piece differently from one performance to another.

Edyta Blaszczyk / The Odessa American 2013

Music lovers have a bucket list of artists they have to see at least once in their lifetime.

The Rolling Stones likely top most lists. Merle Haggard is surely on there and many would argue you have to see Bob Dylan just so you can say you saw Bob Dylan.

Itzhak Perlman, undeniably the greatest living violinist and one of the greatest in history, tops the classical end of the list.

Nearly 2,300 Tucsonans filling every seat of Tucson Music Hall Tuesday night can now cross Perlman's name off their bucket lists.

In his first concert with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra in 30 years, Perlman, 68, performed exactly as we would expect him to: flawlessly.

But it was how he performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major that was so breathtaking. He made it seem so effortless. His hands moved with the fluidity of a ballet dancer in a graceful pirouette.

When he embarked on Beethoven's gorgeous first movement cadenza, the Music Hall grew almost pin-drop silence. Aside from a few muffled coughs near the back of the hall, it was deadly quiet except for the sound of Perlman's violin, soft and sweet, with an indelible tenderness that made you hold your breath for fear that any sound you made would rob you of a note and a memory.

TSO Conductor George Hanson and his musicians on stage with Perlman were just as mesmerized as the audience. They sat motionless, watching Perlman reach into the achingly high soprano range of his violin without creating the slightest squeal before warming down into a crushingly soft alto that created a warm, burnished tone. His violin sounded like a great opera soprano singing an aria.

Beethoven's concerto clocks in at 42 minutes, which on paper seems long. But on Tuesday night as Perlman took his bows in the darkened hall of folks standing and applauding, that 42 minutes seemed to have gone by in an instant.

In the first half of Tuesday's concert, Hanson led the orchestra in terrific performances of Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture, Mahler's adagietto from his Symphony No. 5 and the Hungarian March from Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust." The orchestra will revisit "Damnation" on Feb. 14 and 16 as part of the second annual Tucson Desert Song Festival.