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For Leon Fleisher, Schubert’s B-flat major sonata is an “ultimate piece.”

He sits down with his son Julian Fleisher to discuss Schubert’s special place in his world. This is the third 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.

Watch a live performance of Fleisher playing the Scherzo from his “ultimate piece,” the Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D 960.

Leon Fleisher performs Scherzo from Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D960.

Artist Bios

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Leon Fleisher

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, the music of Franz Schubert has been an integral part of Mr. Fleisher’s repertoire. One of his earliest recordings was Schubert’s monumental final sonata, the Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat major, D. 960, made in 1956 for Columbia Masterworks. Significantly, the final work on his 2004 CD, Leon Fleisher: Two Hands, for Vanguard classics—his first recording for two hands in 40 years—was that same Sonata.

Also in 2004, Mr. Fleisher conducted a series of master classes on the late Schubert sonatas. (One of the performers was pianist Inon Barnatan, who performed at 92Y this past fall in the Jerusalem Quartet: Intimate Brahms series.) The classes were videotaped and have been adapted into an acclaimed interactive performance guide on Carnegie Hall’s website.

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. 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; in 1985 he was named artistic director of Tanglewood. His memoir, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, was published in 2010.

Photo: Joanne Savio

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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 julianfleisher.com.

Photo: Lucas Stoffel

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