[CONCERT REVIEW] Star-Studded Evening Celebrates Legend Pianist Leon Fleisher at 90

Leon Fleisher. Photo credit: Chris Hartlove

Leon Fleisher. Photo credit: Chris Hartlove

Leon Fleisher has been a superstar pianist since the 1950s recording and performing with all the best orchestras and conductors. Yet because of focal dystonia, his career was cut short and took a turn for performing with left hand only works and conducting.

Carnegie Hall hosted a 90th birthday celebration featuring the legend performing solo, plus with special guest artists: celebrated Dover Quartet, people’s favorite Jonathan Biss, and the incredible Yefim Bronfman.

All About Leon

As a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, pianist Leon Fleisher was recognized as a “consummate musician whose career is a testament to the life-affirming power of art.”

A child prodigy who started playing at 4 years old, he went on to international renown, becoming the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1952.

Though he suffered through the debilitating disease of focal dystonia, he channeled his creativity in other endeavors, including mastering piano repertoire for the left hand, initiating a career in conducting, and teaching at Peabody Institute. Through modern medicine, he later gained sufficient use of his right hand, and formed the Fleisher-Jacobson Piano Duo with his wife, pianist Katharine Jacobson.

Birthday Celebrations

On this special evening, Mr. Fleisher performed Bach’s "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Cantata No. 208, and Leon Kirchner’s L.H. for Piano Left Hand and Interlude II, as well as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 with the Dover Quartet.

While one would want to triumph Mr. Fleisher in the performance since it was his birthday, it was actually Mr. Bronfman’s performance with the Dover Quartet that stole the show. Performing Brahms’ Allegro non troppo from Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, their artistry is breathtaking and deserving of much acclaim.

However, I’m not sure what happened to Jonathan Biss’ playing. Not only were there memory slips, but it was as if he was still learning the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109. I could ignore the memory slip if the rest of the playing was sublime, but it was rather lackluster.

Regardless, the star of tonight was honored by a video projection with pre-recorded snippets from other famous musicians—Gary Graffman, Mitsuko Uchida, Yuja Wang, Richard Goode—and even a beautiful tribute from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A few of Mr. Fleisher’s grandchildren recorded their thoughts, too.

It was a magically musical evening to celebrate a legend in the classical music world.