Leon Fleisher, pianist
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 To his delight, he was withdrawn from kindergarten and set up with a succession of private tutors, which constituted his formal education for the rest of his childhood.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.
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Leon Fleisher's Management: Frank Salomon Associates / 212.581.5197