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American icon Leon Fleisher performs on Horowitz Piano Series Nov. 13

“Music making of the highest order.”
—Musicalcriticism.com
October 24, 2013

Fleischer Leon

The Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by the internationally renowned pianist Leon Fleisher on Wednesday, November 13. Fleisher will play music for the left hand by Brahms, Takács, Kirchner, and more, and will be joined by Katherine Jacobson Fleisher in music for piano four hands by Schubert and Ravel.

Fleisher began his career early, as a child prodigy; Pierre Monteux called him “the pianistic find of the century.” In the 1960s, Fleisher lost the use of his right hand due to focal dystonia. Not one to be daunted, the pianist mastered pieces written solely for the left hand, some of which he will perform in his Yale recital. After decades of perseverance, Mr. Fleisher successfully healed himself through alternative therapies.

The concert will open with J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from the Hunting Cantata, BWV 208, arranged by Egon Petri. Next will be the Toccata and Fugue for the Left Hand, written in 1950 by Hungarian composer Jenó Takács. The composition melds a grand Baroque structure, the technicality of a 19th-century virtuoso showpiece, and the harmonic sensibility of the mid-20th century.

Mr. Fleisher will then perform Leon Kirchner’s For the Left Hand, Op. 56, which Kirchner composed for Mr. Fleisher in 1995. This personal piece draws inspiration from the passionate works of American poets Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Bach’s Chaconne for the Left Hand, arranged by Johannes Brahms from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, will follow. The piece, also adapted for the left hand alone, exhibits the traditional chaconne format of melodic variations riding over an unchanging bass pattern. Brahms said of this work, “For me the Chaconne is one of the most incredible pieces of music… For a little instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest and most powerful expression.”

To conclude the evening, Mr. Fleisher will be joined by his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, performing music for piano, four hands. They will perform Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor for piano four hands, D. 940, and Ravel’s La Valse, arranged by Lucien Garban. Ravel’s own lyric introduction to the piece is definitive: “Drifting clouds part and allow hazy glimpses of waltzing couples. They gradually dissipate, and we can distinguish an immense ballroom filled with a whirling crowd. The scene continues to clear. The glow of the chandeliers shines to a full splendor.”

This concert takes place at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall, located at 470 College St. (corner of Wall Street). The Horowitz Piano Series is directed by Boris Berman. Tickets start at $20, $10 with student ID. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit music.yale.edu or contact the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158.

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About Leon Fleisher

Leon Fleisher was among the leading American pianists of his generation, but was stricken with a debilitating condition in his right hand, forcing him to withdraw from public performance in 1965. He soon reappeared in repertory for the left hand alone and also turned to conducting, but until the late 1990s rarely performed music for two hands. Since about 1995 he has been active as a two-handed pianist. Early in his career Fleisher had become identified with the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms, the sonatas of Mozart and Schubert, and works by American composers (Kirchner, Copland, and Sessions). In his one-hand period, he often turned to the Prokofiev Fourth and Ravel D major, both for left hand, and since his rehabilitation in the 1990s Fleisher has returned to much of his earlier repertory. Fleisher’s recordings are available on many labels, including Sony, DG, Vanguard, Albany, Orfeo, and Archipel.

Leon Fleisher was born in San Francisco on July 23, 1928. He began playing the piano at four and gave his first recital at six. He studied with keyboard icon Artur Schnabel from 1938-1948 and gave several remarkable debut concerts, including with the San Francisco Symphony in 1942 and with the New York Philharmonic in 1944, both under Pierre Monteux. Fleisher would later study conducting with Monteux.

Having won the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium in 1952, Fleisher went on to achieve international acclaim over the next decade. In 1965 he withdrew from concertizing and sought out medical attention for his then-undiagnosed condition.

Fleisher began conducting in 1967, founding the Washington, D.C.-based Theater Chamber Players of the Kennedy Center. In 1970 he was appointed music director of the Annapolis Symphony and three years later became associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

In the early ’90s Fleisher was finally correctly diagnosed with focal dystonia and began receiving effective treatments in 1995. Botox injections were added to his regimen in the new century, bringing further improvement. Fleisher gave his first recital at Carnegie in four decades in 2003, and the following year Vanguard released Two Hands, his first two-handed album in more than 40 years. In 2006 a documentary about Fleisher bearing the same title was released and nominated for an Academy Award. Fleisher has been on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory (now Institute) since 1959 and has taught at Curtis Institute of Music and Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.

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