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Pianist and conductor LEON FLEISHER was a student of the great Artur Schnabel, who studied with keyboard giant and pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky, a pupil of Carl Czerny, who in turn studied with Ludwig van Beethoven. Debuting with the New York Philharmonic in 1944, Fleisher quickly established himself as one of the world’s premier classical pianists, concertizing with every major orchestra and making numerous touchstone recordings. At the height of his career, he was suddenly struck silent at age 37 with a neurological affliction known as focal dystonia, rendering two fingers on his right hand immobile.
In the nearly 40 years since Leon Fleisher’s keyboard career was so suddenly curtailed, he has followed two parallel careers – as conductor and teacher – while learning the extraordinary but limited repertoire for piano left-hand. He began conducting in 1967, but never gave up the idea of playing with both hands again.
Experimental treatments using a regimen of rolfing and “botulinum toxin” (botox) injections finally restored the mobility in Fleisher’s hand, and for several years he has played with both hands, winning enormous acclaim for his 2004 ‘two-hand’ recording, aptly titled Two Hands. Fleisher’s story is the subject of the 2006 Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentary film of the same name, written and directed by Nathaniel Kahn (My Architect).
Fleisher received the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors at the 30th annual celebration of the arts where Caroline Kennedy recognized him as “a piano prodigy from the Golden Gate who rose to the heights, embraced adversity, and became a musician for all seasons.” In 2005, Fleisher was honored by the French government and was named Commander in the French Order of Arts and Letters, the highest rank of its kind. The first American to win the prestigious Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition (1952), Fleisher now holds numerous honors including the Johns Hopkins University President’s Medal and honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Boston Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Juilliard School of Music, and the Peabody Institute.
A year of celebratory performances in 2008 commemorating Leon Fleisher’s 80th birthday coincided with the resurgence of his early recordings on Sony Masterworks – regarded as some of the greatest in classical music – among them the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos, which were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame the same year. This season, Fleisher continues to enthrall capacity audiences with performances in New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and internationally in London, Brussels, Lucerne, Singapore, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Toronto, re-affirming his place among the legendary pianists and musicians of our time. In conjunction with his return to Europe’s most prestigious musical capitals, two films on Fleisher by award-winning music and arts filmmaker Mark Kidel, Lessons of A Master and Maestro, were premiered at the Curzon Mayfair in London and on ARTE (Franco-German TV-Channel) and the theatre of La SCAM in France.
Sony Masterworks has signed Fleisher to a new recording deal, starting with the March 31, 2009 release of his first two-hand piano concerto recording in over 40 years – a trio of Mozart concertos recorded with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. The release comprises the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488; Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414; and Concerto No. 7 in F Major for two pianos, K. 242, for which he is joined by his wife Katherine Jacobson-Fleisher. Together, they have opened their private life by regularly playing duos together for audiences around the world.
Leon Fleisher is currently working on a book for Doubleday with acclaimed writer/music critic Anne Midgette, planned for release in 2010. “I have a full fascinating year ahead of me,” said the American piano legend as he celebrates a glorious career.