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Legendary pianist, conductor and teacher Leon Fleisher first heard Brahms’s D-minor Concerto at age 12, and his 1958 recording remains a classic to this day.

He joins his son, singer and actor Julian Fleisher, for a candid conversation about how Brahms has influenced him throughout his life. This is the first in a series of three conversations between Leon and Julian Fleisher, exploring the master’s life and career through the lens of the music he loves.


(Click the names below to expand info.)

Leon Fleisher

Celebrated pianist Leon Fleisher represents the gold standard of musicianship. At 85 years of age, he continues to impart his life-affirming artistry throughout the world, thriving in a sustained career as conductor, soloist, recitalist, chamber music artist and master class mentor.

Throughout this illustrious career, one recurring theme has been Mr. Fleisher’s devotion to the music of Johannes Brahms. Musical America described his acclaimed interpretation of Brahms’ arrangement of the Bach Chaconne for piano left hand as being “rendered here with nuance, suppleness, and exquisite shaping of the composition’s large-scale architecture.” His recordings of the two Brahms piano concertos, recorded in 1958 and 1962, are still considered definitive. More recently, Mr. Fleisher recorded the Piano Quintet with the Emerson String Quartet in 2007 for Deutsche Grammophon, and he is performing the work this season with the Juilliard String Quartet in Philadelphia.

The Brahms arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne is included in Mr. Fleisher’s first new solo recording in almost a decade: All the Things You Are, released in July 2014 by Bridge Records. Mr. Fleisher’s 2014/15 season includes recital appearances of left hand and four hand programs with his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson, at the Schleswig-Holstein and Menuhin festivals; a performance of the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos in F major, with A Far Cry at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, and recitals and chamber music engagements across the country. He regularly conducts master classes around the world, and he currently holds positions at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.

Mr. Fleisher’s career is the stuff of legend—and the focus of three films: the award-winning Lessons of a Master, Recital for Two Hands and the 2006 Oscar- and Emmy-nominated Two Hands. Born in San Francisco, he became the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In 1965, at the height of his career, he suddenly lost the use of two fingers in his right hand due to a neurological affliction. Rather than end his career, Mr. Fleisher began focusing on repertoire for the left hand only, and turned to conducting and teaching. Since then he has made numerous recordings, has started playing with both hands again after extensive therapy, and in 1985 was named Artistic Director of Tanglewood. His memoir, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, was published in 2010.

Photo: Chris Hartlove

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Julian Fleisher

Defining Julian Fleisher is even more difficult than defining his father Leon—he excels as singer, songwriter, producer, actor, writer, etc. As an actor, Mr. Fleisher has starred Off-Broadway in Stephin Merritt’s musicalization of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline as the Cat, and, at The Public Theater, in Gabriel Kahane’s musical February House and he has toured the world with the independent theater company, Elevator Repair Service.

Mr. Fleisher found a home downtown as a singer, where his embrace of all corners of the pop songbook and fresh, irreverent performance style garnered rave reviews in venues like Joe’s Pub, BAM, Symphony Space and 92Y, where he has been a frequent Lyrics & Lyricists guest. Singing led to songwriting, and last May he released his latest recording, Finally, about which the editors at iTunes wrote “Fleisher can get away with anything." He composed the music for the play Almost, Maine by John Cariani, which has enjoyed widespread international success, and he wrote the score for the Broadway play, The Performers. He is currently writing the songs for a new musical, Measure of Success, with book writer Kirsten Guenther.

Also a record producer, Mr. Fleisher has produced such CDs as Boy Wanted for Isabel Rose, I’m Hip for Ana Gasteyer, and both Do You Hear What We Hear? and Kiki & Herb: Live at Carnegie Hall for the legendary downtown duo. In such multiple capacities, he has worked with, among others, Molly Ringwald, Stew, Bridget Everett, Martha Plimpton, Jennifer Holiday, Rufus Wainwright, Paul Schaefer, Keith Carradine and Sally Field. And as a writer, his many works include the popular podcast, "Julian Fleisher’s Guilty Pleasures." Find him @julianflei and

Photo: Lucas Stoffel

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