Sunday night was a sad evening for anyone who loves classical music in Baltimore and beyond. Leon Fleisher, the man who was the classical music soul of our fair city died at age 92. 38 years ago when I first came to this country to pursue guitar studies at Peabody, he was already there and had been there for 2 decades. I didn’t know Leon Fleisher well, but I had the opportunity to interview him a number of times. I also had the pleasure of his phenomenal recorded legacy and the privilege of sharing it with the WBJC audience. I hope you will indulge me in a memory or two.
Several years ago the students of Leon Fleisher’s studio embarked upon a project to play all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in one day. I interviewed both the maestro and his pupils. Talking to Leon Fleisher about Beethoven was beyond fascinating and his students’ insights were also special. When the day came for the event I was only able, due to my commitments at WBJC, to hear the first four sonatas at 10 am and the last five…starting at about 9 pm. Leon Fleisher, then in his 80’s was there for it all. If his students were going to play these pieces he would be there to listen to them…all 32 sonatas worth!
After many years of not being able to use his right hand Leon Fleisher was able to return to two handed performance. The CD to celebrate this occasion was entitled Two Hands and created quite a stir in the classical music community. WBJC offered Leon Fleisher our studios so he could conduct interviews with stations across the country. I recorded a chat with Mr. Fleisher for local broadcast and engineered everyone else’s interviews. It was heartwarming to hear the admiration from my fellow radio hosts for this great musician. People who had never met him or seen him perform live were moved by his CD’s and for some LP’s!
My last interview with Leon Fleisher occurred two years ago when he performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 12 with the Baltimore Symphony. When he walked into the green room he said to me, “you are very busy”! It’s true! I was and am very busy…the fact that Leon Fleisher obviously listened to WBJC was very touching. We had an amazing conversation which was in retrospect rather autumnal. I edited down the original 9 minutes to 4 and kept the complete conversation for the web. On Saturday July 25 I wanted to honor Leon Fleisher’s birthday (July 23, 1928) on Music in Maryland and took the extended interview and illustrated it with musical examples. All of the excerpts are Fleisher’s performance with one exception! (If you can figure out which I will be impressed!) I think it’s a nice piece of work which honors his memory.
For the last several years I have been wondering how I would feel on this day. This is a sad day during a sad time. We have lost an old and good friend. Thankfully we have some amazing things to listen to, be moved by, learn from and enjoy. Leon Fleisher dead at 92, “he was a man, take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.”