Remembering Leon Fleisher

Aug 3, 2020

A pianist known for artistic integrity, limitless determination, and rigorous mentorship talked with me at Tanglewood when he played there with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the last time.

Leon Fleisher speaks with WCRB's Brian McCreath in 2013:

When Leon Fleisher came to Tanglewood in 2013, he played Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with the BSO, a work that he virtually owned. It was a privilege to speak with him about that piece and about his artistic life during an interview the day before the performance.

Fleisher passed away on Aug. 2, at the age of 92.

At Tanglewood, our conversation was only 14 minutes long. But Fleisher responded to my questions with unfailing graciousness and a wisdom rooted not only in a career forged among some of the last century's greatest musicians, but also in his own hard-earned artistic trajectory.

We spoke about the unexpected turns of that trajectory and how he dealt with them, as well as the central role of teaching in his life. Addressing the ever-increasing technical abilities of young musicians, he says that, "All the notes [on the page] are equally black; so it's really up to us to determine the meaningfulness of each  of these notes."

Fleisher also walked me (a non-pianist) through how and why, exactly, piano music for the left hand works, and why there is "literally nothing of value for right hand alone."

I found it fascinating, and I hope you will, too.