We live in an age when, because of increased life expectancy, it is not uncommon to see people working into their 70s and beyond and when multiple presidential candidates this election cycle, including the incumbent, are septuagenarians.
Nonetheless, we can only look on in amazement as a classical pianist performs with nimble fingers at the age of 91! Such an artist we find in the person of Leon Fleisher.
Fleisher is a pianist of renown who recently enthralled his audience with his performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 with the Maryland Lyric Opera Orchestra (MDLO) at the Music Center at Strathmore. In 2007, he was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2007. Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Kennedy Center Chairman, praised Fleisher as “a consummate musician whose career is a moving testament to the life-affirming power of art.”
“We are beyond grateful to welcome Leon Fleisher to perform with the Maryland Lyric Opera Orchestra in its symphonic concert debut,” Brad Clark, president and artistic director of MDLO, said before Fleisher’s return at Strathmore. “Because the MDLO Orchestra was performing operatic works so beautifully, Maestro (Louis) Salemno and I wanted to provide the musicians an opportunity to stand on their own in the beautiful acoustic of Strathmore.”
He has performed locally with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera Orchestra, the Wolf Trap Opera Orchestra, the Washington Concert Opera Orchestra and the erstwhile Baltimore Opera Orchestra. He has even performed at the United States Supreme Court.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Fleisher only returned to full public piano performances and recording sessions in his 70s after decades of absence from the concert hall!
Born in San Francisco, Leon Fleisher was a child prodigy who received piano training from “posterity” of students of Ludwig van Beethoven: Fleisher was trained by Artur Schnabel who in turn had been instructed by Theodor Leschetizky who in his turn had been taught by Carl Czerny, one of Beethoven’s own students.
Fleisher went on to win prestigious piano competitions, perform in concert halls around the world, and go on to record for Columbia Masterworks, his performances specializing in works from the Romantic Age of Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
In 1964, at the age of 36, the most horrifying event which could occur for a pianist happened to Fleisher: neurological damage resulted in the loss of his ability to use his right hand. Ever the musician, he continued to perform works specifically composed for the left hand and enjoyed a successful career as a music educator and conductor, including as his role as the music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, another local connection.
A cure that enabled Fleisher to resume his career later in life came in an unusual form: experimental Botox injections. While Botox is often thought of in connection with cosmetic surgery procedures to restore the appearance of youth, such injections in Fleisher’s case meant the resumption of his piano career.
After recovering from the injections, Fleisher and his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson, form the Fleisher-Jacobson Piano Duo and performed internationally. His 2004 album “Two Hands” held a Top Five stop in the Billboard Chart and received an Oscar nomination. An Academy Award-nominated short-subject documentary called “Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story” was produced by Nathaniel Kahn covering Fleisher’s fascinating life story.
Many can find hope for cures and the fulfillment of supposedly lost dreams in the life and career of Fleisher. All can find joy in his recorded repertoire as well as in his continuing schedule of concert performances, for at age 91, the maestro and virtuoso is still going strong!