Leon Fleisher was the rarest kind of artist, one whose musical brilliance was matched by his profound humanity. His concerts and recordings from the 1940s, ’50s, and early ’60s will forever be studied and celebrated. After the neurological condition of focal dystonia prevented him from using his right hand in 1964, Fleisher found a way to channel his love of music into a polyphonous career; combining conducting, teaching, and the performance of piano repertoire for the left hand. More than 30 years later, his determination to return to two-handed playing manifested in a performance of a Mozart Concerto at Tanglewood in 1995. He formed the Fleisher-Jacobson Duo in 2003, performing and recording four hand and duo piano repertoire with Katherine Jacobson Fleisher.
The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University honors this singular artist and long-time member of the Conservatory faculty with a free, virtual: Leon Fleisher Memorial Service on November 7, 2021, beginning at 2:00 pm at peabody.jhu.edu/live. Fleisher inspired generations of music students at Peabody, beginning in 1959, teaching his last lesson two weeks before he died, at the age of 92 on August 2, 2020. Holding the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in Piano, he taught the way he learned, beginning his study with Artur Schnabel at the age of 9, where the studio format was one student at the piano with the rest of the students in the room, listening and absorbing; to better imprint the inspired teaching of Schnabel.
“The greatest teacher I’ve had since Schnabel is teaching,” Fleisher said during a 2015 interview with the Johns Hopkins Gazette. “It’s a process of diagnosis and prescription. You have to diagnose what’s not right, what’s wrong, and instantly you have to come up with a prescription. [The focal dystonia] did help my teaching because I couldn’t sit down and demonstrate. I had to find words that would take the place of that. I had to find a language. And it made me a more precise and exacting teacher, putting those ephemera into words.”
Fleisher miraculously found ways to transform his musical ephemera into language for six decades at Peabody. “Leon’s remarkable gifts as a musician, pianist, and teacher, were matched only by his charm, wit, intelligence, and warmth as a human being,” noted Dean Fred Bronstein after Fleisher’s passing. “His approach to teaching went as deep as possible—showing young artists how to connect a love of music to the world around them.”
The livestreamed memorial service will feature music recorded by Leon Fleisher. Katherine Jacobson Fleisher and the children of Leon Fleisher will speak about him, as will Dean Bronstein, and the friends and professional associates of Leon Fleisher. Close friends of Fleisher’s will perform the Adagio from the Schubert Cello Quintet. Program and event details will be posted on the Peabody Events page.
The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University has established a scholarship fund in Fleisher’s name. The Leon Fleisher Scholarship Fund will provide funding for the education of pianists, in honor of the musical wisdom with which Leon Fleisher graced Peabody for 61 years. Donations can be made online.