Pianist Leon Fleisher has earned the respect of his fans if the increased volume of applause on last Saturday evening was any indication. When he came onto the stage to perform Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Concerto for the Left Hand for Piano and Orchestra with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, it was clear the audience was in awe of his presence.
Leon nonchalantly placed his glasses on top of the piano before he glided into the music. His entrance was smooth and it was apparent it was a piece he knew intimately.
The musician had lost the use of his right hand at the age of 36 and at the height of his career. He was struck with focal dystonia, a neurological affliction, and two fingers on his right hand became immobile. He learned the small repertoire of left-handed piano while maintaining a career as both a conductor and teacher as he searched for a cure for his affliction. In 2003, he returned to Carnegie Hall for his first two-handed recital in over three decades.
Ravel himself was brilliant in his orchestration of a piece he wrote for another pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during the First World War. The composition is such that it often sounds as if two hands are at the piano. The music, at times, was fitting for an epic movie.
There is a moment in the Lento (the piece is performed in one movement) that is serene and perhaps this was in telling Wittgenstein’s story. Leon was relaxed and cool, but meditative in his approach to the music.
Toward the end of the piece (Allegro), Leon took the audience into Ravel’s dream-like sequence and we shared in the reverie of the talented pianist in his personal journey.
The audience expressed their appreciation for his performance with a powerful applause that thundered through the full concert hall.
Leon has a cherished connection with the JSO in that his son, Richard “Dickie” Fleisher, principal harpist for the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, is married to JSO’s principal harpist, Kayo Ishimaru. Both Dickie and Kayo performed side by side on Saturday.
The pianist was also instrumental in assisting the orchestra’s musicians in 2007 with a benefit concert he gave with his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. The JSO musicians’ five-year contract had expired and negotiations came to a standstill, resulting in a lockout.
Leon commented in between signing CDs and his book, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music,* that it was “very enjoyable to play with [the JSO].”
The JSO performed two pieces by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) in the second half of the program: Don Juan, Tone Poem and Suite from Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose). While both compositions are dramatic and romantic, it’s his “Suite” that offers more flavor in its passages. It has all the elements of the waltzing Strausses, and even Music Director and Conductor Fabio Mechetti had his own dance-like movements as he led the orchestra through the rousing, familiar music.
Concertmaster Philip Pan executed the solo violin at one point with a masterful grace.
Toward the end of the piece, the music slowed as though it was coming to a tranquil close. The orchestra then launched into a rousing waltz in the Suite’s grand climax, a fitting end to a breathtaking season.
*co-authored with acclaimed writer and music critic Anne Midgette
**A special thank you to Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra for the complimentary tickets to this concert.
Upcoming performances with Leon Fleisher:
June 2, 2011
Leon Fleisher: In Focus
92nd St. Y, New York
June 12 & 13, 2011
Maestro & Friends III
Theatre des Bouffes-du-Nord
June 19 & 20, 2011
May 29, 2011
Concert on the Green
and so much more!