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Fleisher, Leon

Fleisher, Leon

Fleisher, Leon, distinguished American pianist, conductor, and teacher; b. San Francisco, July 23, 1928. His mother was a singing teacher. He received the rudiments of music from his mother; then studied piano with Lev Shorr. He played in public at the age of 6. He then was sent to Europe for studies with Schnabel at Lake Como, Italy; continued his studies with him in N.Y. At the age of 14, he appeared as soloist in the Liszt A major piano concerto with the San Francisco Sym. Orch. (April 16,1943); at 16, he was soloist with the N.Y Phil. (Nov. 4, 1944); in 1952 he became the first American to win 1st prize at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition in Brussels; this catapulted him into a brilliant career. He made several European tours; also gave highly successful recitals in South America. In 1964 he was stricken with repetitive stress syndrome of the right hand. Disabled, Fleisher turned to piano works written for left hand alone (Ravel, Prokofiev, and others). He also began to conduct. He had studied conducting with Monteux in San Francisco and at the conducting school established by Monteux in Hancock, Maine; he also profited from advice from Szell. In 1968 he became artistic director of the Theater Chamber Players in Washington, D.C.; in 1970 he became music director of the Annapolis Sym. Orch. as well. From 1973 to 1977 he was assoc. conductor of the Baltimore Sym. Orch.; then was its resident conductor in 1977–78. He also made guest conducting appearances with major U.S. orchs. A treatment with cortisone injections and even acupuncture and the fashionable bio-feedback to control the electrophysiological motor system did not help. In 1981 he decided to undergo surgery; it was momentarily successful, and on Sept. 16, 1982, he made a spectacular comeback as a bimanual pianist, playing the Symphonic Variations by Franck with Comissiona and the Baltimore Sym. Orch. In 1985 he became artistic director-designate of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, and fully assumed his duties as artistic director in 1986. In 1993 he marked the 50th anniversary of his professional career with a gala concert at the San Francisco Cons, of Music. On July 23, 1994, he was soloist in the premiere of Foss’s Piano Concerto for Left Hand and Orch. with Ozawa and the Boston Sym. Orch. at Tanglewood. Fleisher devoted much time to teaching; he joined the faculty of the Peabody Cons, of Music in Baltimore in 1959, and subsequently was named to the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in Piano. Among his brilliant pupils were Andre Watts and Lorin Hollander.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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