Leon Fleisher
piano | United States of America, °1928 - 2020
 
PIANO 1952 : First Prize
Leon Fleisher, whose career as an acclaimed US concert pianist continued despite losing the use of his right hand, has died aged 92 in Baltimore on 2 August 2020.

Born to eastern European Jewish immigrants in San Francisco in 1928, Fleisher was a child prodigy who, aged four, would repeat the piano phrases his older brother had been learning, without teaching. He played his first public concert aged eight, and began being taught by star pianist Artur Schnabel the following year. He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, at the city’s Carnegie Hall, when he was 16.

As a young man, he signed a contract with Columbia Masterworks, and earned acclaim for his performances of piano concertos by Brahms, Liszt and Beethoven, with conductors including Leonard Bernstein and George Szell.

By 1949, however, though he had played with many of the major American orchestras and had given recitals across the country, engagements began to dry up for Mr. Fleisher. The next year he moved to Paris and remained in Europe until 1958, relocating first to the Netherlands and then to Italy.

As an expatriate, Mr. Fleisher became the first American to win the gold medal at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, in 1952. The victory led to a long list of engagements in Europe and revived interest in him among American orchestras, managers and concert promoters.

He developed a condition called focal dystonia, which he later attributed to over-practising, that led to numbness in his right hand and two of his fingers curling inward. Aged 36, he could no longer play with both hands, causing him a “deep funk and despair”, he later said.

After two years of inactivity, he refocused on repertoire for the left hand, including works by Ravel, Prokofiev and Britten, as well as music newly composed for him, and began a successful conducting career with orchestras in Baltimore and Annapolis.

He attempted a return to two-handed playing in the mid-80s but didn’t feel he had enough facility with his right hand. However, after further treatment in the 90s, with a combination of Botox injections and deep tissue massage, he regained the use of his afflicted fingers and recorded new albums of two-handed work.

A documentary about his life, Two Hands, was nominated for best documentary short at the 2006 Academy awards.

Articles from The NY Times and The Guardian
Audio
Picture
Program
Final (26/05/1952)
Raymond Chevreuille Concerto n. 2 op. 50
Johannes Brahms Concerto n. 1 in D minor op. 15
Leon Fleisher, piano
National Orchestra of Belgium, dir. Franz André
Relive the performances of Cello 2022
H.M. Queen Mathilde
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