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."
Born in 1928 in San Francisco, the child prodigy began to study the piano at the age of 4 and by the age of 9, the legendary Artur Schnabel invited him to be his student, first in Lake Como, Italy, and then in New York, where Schnabel nurtured and inspired the young Fleisher for the next 10 years as he evolved into one of the great music masters of our time. Leon Fleisher made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Pierre Monteux, when he was 16 years old. Maître Monteux called him "the pianistic find of the century."
Fleisher went on to international renown, becoming the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition in Brussels in 1952. He subsequently enjoyed a prolific recording career, most notably with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, recordings recognized as among the great collaborations in the concerto repertoire. In 1965, before a scheduled tour of Russia with the Cleveland Orchestra, Leon Fleisher began to suffer symptoms of a debilitating condition of his right hand, later diagnosed as focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes the fingers to curl into the palm of the hand.
After a period of great despair, Fleisher channeled his creativity in new directions, mastering the piano repertoire for left hand and initiating a career in conducting for ensembles such as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He was a cofounder and conductor of the Theater Chamber Players, which performed contemporary chamber music at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from 1968 to the early 2000s, and taught at Tanglewood in the 1980s and 1990s. He renewed his dedication to teaching at Peabody, where he has been the inspiration to hundreds of students since 1959. Leon Fleisher holds the Andrew W. Mellon Chair at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. As a teacher, he has carried on a tradition that descends directly from Beethoven himself, handed down generationally through Carl Czerny, Theodor Leschititsky, Artur Schnabel, and Leon Fleisher himself.
In the mid-'90s, with the combined therapies of Botox injections and Rolfing, he regained sufficient use of his right hand, leading to an extraordinary career renaissance. In 2003, Fleisher joined forces with his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson, to form the Fleisher-Jacobson Duo, giving concerts world-wide and recording for Sony Classical. Leon Fleisher released the album Two Hands in 2004, which went on to hold a Top 5 Billboard Chart position and was hailed by critics as one of the best recordings of the year. Two Hands is also the title of the Oscar nominated documentary film about his amazing life story. In 2013, Sony Classical issued a 23-CD box set of his entire recorded output, and in 2014, Fleisher released his first solo CD in a decade, the Grammy nominated All The Things You Are.
In 2006, in Paris, Leon Fleisher received the honor of Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of the French government.
At age 89, in addition to his teaching at Peabody, Fleisher continues with an international schedule of master classes, performances, and orchestral guest conducting.
Biographical information adapted from http://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/ (accessed February 12, 2018).