March 2, 2007
Fleisher Conducts Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra March 23
Leon Fleisher will be conductor and piano soloist when the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra performs works by Bartók, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Haydn at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, in Clapp Recital Hall on the University of Iowa campus.
The concert, presented by Hancher Auditorium, will feature the Divertimento for Strings by Bartók, Mozart's Piano Concerto K. 414, the String Symphony No. 10 in B minor by Mendelssohn and Haydn's Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor (known as the "Farewell" Symphony).
Fleisher will present a master class with UI piano students at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 24, in Harper Hall of the UI Voxman Music Building. The public may observe the master class free of charge.
The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1945 and played a role in renewing European cultural connections, becoming the first German orchestra to perform in Paris after World War II. The orchestra's prominence has continued unabated for six decades.
In recent years an association with the ECM New label has produced internationally lauded CD recordings, including collaborations with violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist Keith Jarrett.
Fleisher's career is equally long and famous -- beginning with his debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 16 - but with an unusual detour.
He was the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium competition, in 1952, and his career was on a smooth upward trajectory for the next dozen years.
Then he was suddenly struck silent when two fingers of his right hand became immobile in 1965, and he was forced to "retire" when only 37 years old. This was the defining moment in his career until recently, when he began treatments that finally helped relieve the neurological affliction known as focal dystonia that had been plaguing him for more than half his life.
For several years, as a result of regular botox injections, Fleisher has been playing with both hands again, and won enormous critical acclaim for his first two-hand recording in 40 years. And his recital in Carnegie Hall in 2004, which included left-handed and two-handed repertoire, was a triumph with the press and the audiences.
In the nearly 40 years since Leon Fleisher's keyboard career was so suddenly curtailed, he has followed two parallel careers -- as conductor and teacher -- while learning to play the extensive but limiting repertoire of compositions for piano left-hand.
Fleisher's reputation as a conductor was quickly established when he founded the Theatre Chamber Players at the Kennedy Center in 1967 and became music director of the Annapolis Symphony in 1970. He made his New York conducting debut at the 1970 Mostly Mozart Festival and in 1973 became associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony. He has appeared as guest conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal and Detroit.
Teaching has been a crucially important element in Fleisher's life. He has held the Andrew W. Mellon Chair at the Peabody Conservatory of Music since 1959, and he also serves on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. From 1986-97 he was artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center.
"Suddenly I realized that the most important thing in my life wasn't playing with my two hands: it was music," he explains. "In order to be able to make it across these last 30 or 40 years, I've had to somehow de-emphasize the number of hands or the number of fingers and kind of go back to the concept of music as music -- whether it be a single line for a wind instrument or a single line for one hand, or one hand sounding like two hands. In other words, the instrumentation becomes unimportant and it's the substance and the content that takes over."
Fleisher's tribulations and triumphs have been captured in the documentary film "Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story," which was a finalist in the 2007 Academy Awards. National Public Radio ran a Feb. 25 story about the film: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7549885.
Listen to Susan Stamberg's earlier NRP piece on his story at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1113588. And listen to a 2006 performance on NPR at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5624105.
The March 23 concert is sponsored by Sandy Heistad, and Douglas J. and Linda E. Paul through the University of Iowa Foundation.
Tickets are $45; UI student $15; senior citizen $40.50; youth $31.50. Discounted concert tickets are available as part of volume purchases: A simultaneous purchase of five events or more qualifies for a 15-percent discount.
Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu.
Any remaining tickets will be on sale at Clapp Recital Hall the evening of the concert.
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