Leon Fleisher has premiered works by Kirchner, Foss and Bolcom and is a champion of Ligeti’s music.
Discover why the master finds new music “exciting as hell” in conversation with his son, singer and actor Julian Fleisher. This is the second 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.
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Celebrated pianist Leon Fleisher represents the gold standard of musicianship. At 86 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, Mr. Fleisher has been steadfastly committed to the promotion and performance of new music. In 1963 he released an all-American album of works for solo piano by Copland, Kirchner, Sessions and Rorem; it was digitally released in 2008. After he lost the use of his right hand, he significantly expanded the repertoire for piano left-hand. Bolcom and Foss both wrote concertos for Mr. Fleisher, and in 2004 he premiered Hindemith’s Klaviermusik (Piano Concerto for the Left Hand), Op. 29, with the Berlin Philharmonic. Solo works written for Fleisher by Kirchner and Perle are included in his first solo recording in almost a decade, All the Things You Are, released in July 2014 by Bridge Records. Mr. Fleisher has also been a strong proponent of the music of Ligeti. At his concert for 92Y in December 2010, he conducted an ensemble from the Peabody Conservatory in two comic works, Aventures and Nouvelle Aventures.
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: Kiochi Miura
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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 julianfleisher.com.
Photo: Lucas Stoffel
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