The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University will honor longtime faculty member Leon Fleisher—the rarest kind of artist, one whose musical brilliance was matched by his profound humanity—with a free, virtual memorial event on Sunday, Nov. 7. The Leon Fleisher Memorial Service will begin at 2 p.m. at peabody.jhu.edu/live.
Fleisher inspired generations of music students at Peabody, from his arrival at Peabody in 1959 until his death in August 2020 at age 92.
Fleisher's 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 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," Peabody Dean Fred Bronstein said after Fleisher's death. "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. His widow, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, and his children will speak about him, as will Bronstein and other friends and professional associates of Leon Fleisher. Close friends of Fleisher's will perform the Adagio from the Schubert Cello Quintet.
The Peabody Institute has established a scholarship fund in Fleisher's name to provide funding for the education of pianists, in honor of the musical wisdom with which Fleisher graced Peabody for 61 years. Donations can be made online.
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