Leon Fleisher, pianist

"You can't see music as it passes through the air. You can't grasp it and hold on to it. You can't smell it. You can't taste it. But it has a most powerful effect on most people. And that is a wondrous thing to contemplate."

Legendary pianist Leon Fleisher represents the highest standard of musicianship and, at 85 years young, he continues to impart his life-affirming artistry throughout the world, thriving in a sustained career as a performer, conductor, mentor, and recording artist.

As his career nears its seventh decade, Fleisher’s performance highlights this year include appearances with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia Festival. For the 2013-14 concert season, Fleisher is the Cleveland Orchestra’s new Artist-in-Residence (a career recap; he was conductor George Szell's first soloist with the Clevelanders in 1947), returning in December for the first time since 2003 to make his Severance Hall conducting debut. He performs at Carnegie Hall also in December, in concert with the New York String Orchestra under the baton of Jaime Laredo.

Having earned a reputation among students as the ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ of the piano, Fleisher holds a position at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and since 1959 has held a position at the Peabody Institute, which established the Leon Fleisher Scholars Fund for Piano Students in 2012. He returns to lead master classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Yale University, and Steans Institute at Ravinia, as well as a weeklong residency at the Curtis Institute of Music.

First-generation American, Leon Fleisher was born in San Francisco, 1928, and began playing piano at the age of four. To his delight, he was withdrawn from kindergarten and set up with a succession of private tutors, which constituted his formal education for the rest of his childhood. (Fleisher jokes, “I’ve long thought of entitling my autobiography I Was a Kindergarten Dropout.”) He gave his first public recital at age eight, and was thrust into the relatively new classical music scene in San Francisco and those who influenced it, including Alfred Hertz, the second-ever director of the San Francisco Symphony, and the great French conductor, Pierre Monteux. There he first met Artur Schnabel – an event that was undoubtedly the most consequential in Fleisher’s musical life – which set in motion a lifelong connection to music, beyond simply the piano. At age 9, he became the youngest-ever student of Schnabel, continuing a pedagogical lineage that traces back to Beethoven. Fleisher made his formal public debut in 1944 with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Pierre Monteux, who famously recognized Fleisher as “the pianistic find of the century.”

In 1952, Fleisher became the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels, placing him among the world's premier classical pianists. He concertized with every major orchestra and made numerous touchstone recordings for Columbia/Epic (now Sony) under the direction of George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. At the height of his success in 1965, he was suddenly struck silent at age 36 with a neurological affliction later identified as focal dystonia, rendering two fingers on his right hand immobile. Rather than end his career, Fleisher forged a renewed life in music, focusing on repertoire for the left hand only, and establishing a new path as soloist, conductor and teacher. In 1985 he was named Artistic Director of Tanglewood; he launched a conducting career as co-founder of the Theater Chamber Players in Baltimore, then with the Annapolis and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras. He re-established himself as a recording artist, championing the left-handed piano repertoire.

In the new millennium, experimental treatments using a regimen of Rolfing and 'botulinum toxin' (Botox) injections finally restored the mobility in Fleisher’s right hand. The extraordinary renaissance of Fleisher’s career has been documented extensively, particularly around the 2004 release of his critically acclaimed album Two Hands, which went on to hold a top 5 Billboard Chart position. The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Billboard, Gramophone and many others hailed it as one of the top recordings of its year, in any genre. He has since made several recordings including The Journey (Vanguard Classics, 2006); as soloist on the Emerson String Quartet’s Brahms, featuring the Piano Quintet in f minor (Deutsche Grammophon, 2007); a world premiere recording of Hindemith’s Klaviermusik mit Orchester (Ondine, 2009), and his first two-handed concerto recording in 40 years, Mozart Piano Concertos (Sony, 2009). This year, Sony Classical commemorated the pianist’s 85th birthday with the release of Leon Fleisher: The Complete Album Collection, a career-spanning 23-disc box set of Fleisher’s recordings. Fleisher’s Brahms piano concerto recordings are still considered definitive today and his recordings of the five Beethoven concertos on Columbia were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Award-winning music and arts documentary filmmaker Mark Kidel directed two feature films on Fleisher for ARTE (Franco-German Television) – Lessons of A Master (winner, Grand Prix Classiques en Image Paris 2003 and UNESCO Prize for Best Music Film 2003) and Recital for Two Hands (2008). Fleisher's story is also the subject of the 2006 Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentary film Two Hands, written and directed by Nathaniel Kahn (My Architect).

Fleisher holds numerous honors including the Johns Hopkins University President's Medal and honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Amherst College, Boston Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard School of Music and Peabody Institute. In 2005, the French government named him Commander in the French Order of Arts and Letters, the highest rank of its kind. He was Musical America’s 1994 “Instrumentalist of the Year,” and this year was named the Royal Philharmonic Society’s “Instrumentalist of the Year.” Fleisher received the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors for his contribution to U.S. culture. His memoir, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, co-written with Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette, is available on Doubleday. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, a noted pianist with whom he frequently tours, live in Baltimore, Md.

July 2013

Press inquiries: Please contact Boss Sounds / 212.741.7959

Leon Fleisher's Management: Frank Salomon Associates / 212.581.5197

Get the latest updates & experience more Boss Sounds!
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
The Boston Globe
“Fleisher plays fewer notes than most pianists but they mean more.”
June 9, 2012
The Boston Music Intelligencer
“Ms. Fleisher performed with confidence and a graceful virtuosity; the Fleisher duo played as one in a seamless performance bursting with joie de vivre.
Michael ROCHA
June 8, 2012
The Baltimore Sun
“With abundant physical power as needed and an equal amount of expressive sensitivity, Fleisher brought out the alternately earthy, impressionistic, jazzy elements of this brilliant and unusual work [Ravel Concerto for Left Hand].”
May 4, 2012
WNYC - Gig Alert
Soundcheck's daily Gig Alert series previews 'An Evening with Fleisher & Kalish' with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall.
April 20, 2012
KDHX (St. Louis)
“[Fleisher's] performance was both powerful and elegant...with all the transparency and sensitivity to Ravel’s elaborate musical tapestry that one could ask for.”
April 15, 2012
Steinway Presents
PIANO PORTRAITS with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: Leon Fleisher & Katherine Jacobson Fleisher discuss pianos, performances, and more.
April 5, 2012
KCPW - CityViews
RADIO PODCAST: Leon Fleisher talks with Jennifer Napier-Pearce, host of Salt Lake City's local public affairs program CityViews, about his own views on a career in music and musical education.
March 21, 2012
The Allentown Morning Call
“[Violinist Jaime] Laredo and Fleisher were perfectly balanced in their performance. Laredo exhibited a warm, silky yet unassuming tone, and the sound of Fleisher’s Steinway fully embraced the violin sound musically.”
March 4, 2012
The Baltimore Sun
“[Brahms'] Symphony No. 3 found the conductor [Leon Fleisher] in an expansive mood, but within his broad tempos, he had phrases crackling and surging. It was a beautifully sculpted interpretation....”
March 1, 2012
Le Monde (Paris)
“You don't want to miss a visit by Leon Fleisher [performing] Mozart. Don't even think of it.”
Marie-Aude ROUX
February 13, 2012
“...an authoritative account of the Prokofiev as one could hope to hear. The opening and closing movements were fierily dispatched with aplomb, but it was in the middle two that [Fleisher] was most effective, bringing finesse and refinement; the Andante was particularly eloquent.”
January 26, 2012
Leon Fleisher talks about conducting, performing, and his acronym 'Aloha,' i.e., Altered Level of Human Awareness.
January 10, 2012
Chicago Tribune
“At 83, [Fleisher's]...still got the musical chops.”
John von RHEIN
October 30, 2011
Brightest Young Things
Leon Fleisher talks to Jeff Jetton at this year's National Book Festival: “As performers, we are indispensable because we bring those black dots on the paper to life, but the music is the star.”
October 4, 2011
PBS NewsHour
Jeffrey Brown recently sat down with Leon Fleisher at his home in Baltimore to discuss his musical life and memoir, My Nine Lives.
July 18, 2011
Reuters (London)
“American pianist Leon Fleisher honored as instrumentalist of the year by Britain's Royal Philharmonic Society...cited for "extraordinary" performances at the 2010 Aldeburgh festival.”
Michael RODDY
May 10, 2011
American Public Media - The Story
Leon Fleisher has redefined the meaning of perfection. His new book is My Nine Lives, and he sits down to talk about his story with Dick Gordon.
March 8, 2011
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Fleisher's] performance reflected the expressive subtlety, command of structure and tonal beauty for which the pianist has been admired for more than six decades.”
February 12, 2011
Commentary Magazine
“...engagingly written, uncommonly forthcoming ... unlike many music biographies, My Nine Lives is fully accessible to the layman....”
February 2011