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A Tribute to Leon Fleisher

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

This past weekend saw the passing of Leon Fleisher, one of the great pianists of the last hundred years and one of the world’s most beloved classical piano pedagogues. He was 92.

Fleisher was the most famous pupil of Arthur Schnabel (a World War I era pianist who was himself considered one of the all-time greatest interpreters of Beethoven & Schubert), with whom he began studying with at the age of nine. He made his New York Philharmonic debut at the age of 16 with the famed French conductor Pierre Monteux.

Fleisher was a conceptual artist of the first rank. His recordings of the two piano concertos by Brahms, the five Beethoven piano concertos, the Rachmaninoff Paganini Variations, the Ravel concerto for left hand, and Franck’s symphonic Variations are, in the opinion of the writer, second to none. Many of these concerto collaborations were made with George Szell, among the most legendary conductors of the last century.

At the age of 36, Fleischer lost the use of his right hand due to focal dystonia. A period of despair and despondency followed. However, he soon realized that other doors were open to him, and thus geared his energies towards teaching and conducting.

Fleisher taught at the Peabody Conservatory/Johns Hopkins University for over 50 years, and was also on faculty at the Curtis Institute and the Royal Conservatory of Music up until the time of his passing. He was a resident faculty for decades at the Tanglewood Festival – one of the most prestigious chamber music festivals in the world — and was the founder of the Kennedy Centre Chamber players in Washington DC.

Fleisher's master classes were legendary!  His conceptual ability to pierce at the heart of musical truth, probing, deeply honest and with unswerving fidelity to the conception as he saw it left participants, auditors and attending teachers in awe. His musical mind was boundlessly imaginative and inspired, and touched the lives of thousands of gifted young musicians  from across the world over decades. The number of great and current master teachers and concert pianists who called him teacher, are legion.

As an homage to this great master, I have compiled a list of interviews and recordings for the listeners recognition and enjoyment. Rest in peace Mr. Fleisher

Peter Simon – President of the Royal Conservatory pays tribute to Leon Fleisher

Fleisher/Szell/Cleveland Symphony Orchestra:

Brahms piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini

Leon Fleisher with the Juilliard string Quartet/Brahms piano quintet in F minor

Ravel Alborado del Gracioso

A conversation with Leon Fleisher

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