BALTIMORE (WJZ) — If you follow Billboard, did you notice? For weeks, the number one recording on the classical CD chart was “All the Things You Are.”
Denise Koch spoke with Leon Fleisher–a solo piano artist living in Baltimore at the age of 86.
Eighty-six years old and at the top of his game. Teaching, conducting, performing and recording a hit CD.
“You want to know how many records got me to the top of the charts in classical? You won’t believe this… 358… 358 sold and I’m at the top of the charts,” Fleisher said.
OK. Classical music is not a mass seller. It’s an art, and Leon is one of the greatest artists of his generation.
Teaching at Peabody for nearly half a century, Fleisher began studying piano at age four, made his debut at age eight and played with the New York Philharmonic at age 16.
A true classical music star, his awards include the Queen Elizabeth Prize, several honorary doctorates, and in 2007, the Kennedy Center Honor.
Fleisher’s career was almost silenced in 1964. His right hand suddenly wouldn’t play, wouldn’t move.
“This condition I have is called focal distonia. It is a neurological movement disorder,” Fleisher said.
When his right hand failed him 50 years ago, Leon will say–with the perspective of time–that it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of a whole new life of conducting and performing and teaching.
In 1982, opening night for the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, he did play again with both hands. WJZ talked to him soon after.
“I was still alive and I hadn’t made an ass of myself,” Fleisher said.
Hardly. Sheer triumph. Never entirely cured, Leon’s latest CD does include pieces for two hands.
“It’s now reached the point where I’m not quite sure if the failings are due to focal distonia or to old age. You know, over which I don’t have much control,” he said.
But, age cannot quiet his passion for, his commitment to, the wonder of music.
“The joys and the satisfactions of working in a field such as this are really quite indescribable. And I feel totally, totally blessed,” he said.
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