Leon Fleisher

Leon Fleisher
Doctor of Music

Among the most accomplished pianists and influential educators of his generation, Leon Fleisher has devoted his life to music. A child prodigy, Fleisher began studying with the legendary Artur Schnabel at the age of 9. Following a sensational debut at the New York Philharmonic when he was just 16, Fleisher became the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition at 24. He quickly built an impressive performing and recording career, acclaimed for his nuanced interpretations of the German and American repertories.

In the mid-1960s, while on a tour of Europe, Fleisher first noticed signs of focal dystonia, a mysterious neurological disorder that would rob him of the use of his right hand at the height of his career. Undaunted by this devastating illness, Fleisher took up conducting and devoted himself to educating the next generation of pianists. He continued to perform and record, revitalizing the left-hand repertory, inspiring new compositions in this genre and earning two Grammy nominations in the process.

In recent years, new therapies have helped Fleisher regain the use of his right hand; he performs regularly and has released several new recordings to critical acclaim. Fleisher’s artistry and triumph over his focal dystonia were chronicled in the 2007 Academy Award-nominated documentary Two Hands. He was named Instrumentalist of the Year in 1994 by Musical America, won the Johns Hopkins University President’s Medal in 2005 and received the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors for his lifetime contributions to American culture.

Born in San Francisco in 1928, Fleisher has served on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music since 1959, where he is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Chair in Piano; he is also on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada. In 1967, Fleisher founded the Theater Chamber Players at the Kennedy Center, and he has since served as associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony and music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and of the Tanglewood Music Center.

Watch video of Fleischer’s talk, “Discussing Anything Musical with Leon Fleisher.”