Piano; Master Class
Renowned pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher is a native of San Francisco, where he began his keyboard studies at age four and gave his first public recital at age eight. One year later he became a student of the legendary Artur Schnabel. In 1944, at age 16, Mr. Fleisher made his debut with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Monteux. He went on to become the first American to win the Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Belgium. Regular appearances with orchestras and in recital on the world's great concert stages followed. His celebrated collaboration with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra resulted in a series of recordings, among them the Beethoven and Brahms piano concertos, which have remained touchstones of the classical catalogue to this day.
Midway through the 1964-65 season, Mr. Fleisher's illustrious career was interrupted by the onset of a debilitating ailment affecting his right hand, later diagnosed as focal dystonia. During the intervening years, he devoted his musical career to teaching, conducting (which he has pursued actively since 1967) and, eventually, to the left-hand alone piano literature. His performances and recordings of the repertoire for the left hand, beginning in the 1980s, won him immediate critical and popular acclaim, as well as two Grammy nominations for his Sony Classical recordings (both solo works for the left hand and the Ravel and Prokofiev concertos). It was in 1995, at a concert with the Cleveland Orchestra, that Mr. Fleisher was able to play the Mozart Concerto in A Major, K. 414 successfully with both hands again. He now performs both the left-hand repertoire and select works for two hands.
Mr. Fleisher has performed the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with the San Francisco Symphony (under Michael Tilson Thomas), the Orchestre de Paris (under Carlo Maria Giulini), the Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra (under Daniel Barenboim), and the Chicago Symphony (under Ivan Fischer), among other orchestras. He has also continued to play the Mozart Concerto K. 414 with such orchestras as the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony (at Ravinia), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (which he also conducted), and the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with the Toronto Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, BBC Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris (as soloist on its European tour in the fall of 1997). His recitals, which have included appearances in Vienna and London (Wigmore Hall), combine two-hand and left-hand alone repertoire.
Mr. Fleisher's reputation as a conductor was quickly established when he founded the Theatre Chamber Players at the Kennedy Center in 1967 and became music director of the Annapolis Symphony in 1970. He made his New York conducting debut at the 1970 Mostly Mozart Festival. In 1973, he became associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony. Since that time he has appeared as guest conductor with the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Montreal Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, among others. He conducted his first opera in Baltimore during the 1988-89 season. He also had a regular association with the New Japan Philharmonic as its principal guest conductor, leading the orchestra in a series of concerts each season, as well as with the Chamber Music Orchestra of Europe and the Gustav Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
Holder of the Andrew W. Mellon Chair at the Peabody Conservatory of Music since 1959, Mr. Fleisher also serves on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and The Royal Conservatory. From 1986–97, he was artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center. Teaching has been an important element of his activities at the Aspen, Lucerne, Ravinia, and Verbier festivals, among others. He has also given master classes at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the Paris Conservatory, the Ravel Academy at St. Jean de Luz, the Reina Sofia School in Madrid, the Mishkenot in Jerusalem, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Mr. Fleisher holds honorary doctorates from The Juilliard School, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Towson University, and he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1994, Musical America named him Instrumentalist of the Year. He has also been the recipient of The Johns Hopkins University's President's Medal. In addition, he received the Decoration of Commander in the Order of King Leopold II from the Belgian government in 2000. That year Mr. Fleisher became the first living pianist to be inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame.