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BWW Review: A TRIBUTE TO LEON FLEISHER

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Ganz’s playing is arresting and sensitive.

BWW Review: A TRIBUTE TO LEON FLEISHER
Top to bottom: Brian Ganz. Photo by Jay Mallin.
Marian Hahn. Photo by Peabody Conservatory.
Leon Fleisher. Photo by Peabody Conservatory.

The word "legendary" can be used loosely, but as Brian Ganz demonstrates in a tribute concert to his long-time teacher and world-famous pianist Leon Fleisher, in this case not only is the description deserving but can be applied in many different spheres.

A child prodigy, Fleisher gave his first public recital at age eight and was just 16 when he debuted at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. Conductor Pierre Monteux called Fleisher the "pianistic find of the century." Many of Fleisher's recordings have been considered peerless, as have been his years of teaching.

Ganz, a Maryland native, was a young man when he auditioned for and began studying with Fleisher, Peabody Conservatory's lead piano teacher. The learning experience continued for decades, who declared that the love of learning and of art was as great a legacy from Fleisher as his musical training.

In this online concert for Community Concerts at Second in tribute to his teacher, Ganz plays pieces he said were inspired either directly or indirectly by Fleisher. His program includes: Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Sheep May Safely Graze"; three stand-alone works by Mozart; and works by Chopin, including the Polonaise in A Major, two Mazurkas, and the "Heroic" Polonaise in A-flat major.

It is difficult to generate the same excitement of playing in one's home as in a concert hall. But Ganz's playing is arresting and sensitive, and especially electric in the works by Chopin, whom he considers his favorite composer. Ganz, who has received a silver medal in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels among other awards, plays regularly in the Baltimore/D.C. area despite a busy national and international concert schedule.

Also, part of the tribute is a half-hour-long Pre-Concert Talk, which focuses only tangentially on the music Ganz will be playing but heavily on the warm memories he and pianist and fellow Peabody Conservatory faculty member Marian Hahn share of the man they repeatedly call their "beloved teacher."

Among Fleisher's attributes, Ganz emphasized, was his humility. When as an auditioning Ganz mentioned having heard a magnificent recording of Beethoven works by his would-be teacher, Fleisher said to him: "Don't believe everything you hear on recordings." And when an unknown student wrote on the blackboard at Peabody, "We Love you, Mr. Fleisher," the teacher seemed moved - but then added: "I had to get up really early to write that on the blackboard before the rest of you arrived."

The beauty of an online event- whatever its limitations - is that you can listen to the Pre-Concert Talk after the concert. The chances are, whichever order you choose, you will find yourself a little teary-eyed for the loss of Fleisher - pianist, conductor, and teacher extraordinaire. Not to mention a person of extraordinary courage, who turned the proverbial lemons into lemonade when an injury to his right hand forced him to channel his career into conducting, teaching, and mastering the left-hand repertoire.

Eventually, through treatment, he was able to return to two-handed playing, much to audience delight. In 2007 he was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and taught at the Peabody Conservatory till right before his death of cancer last August.

Fleisher would no doubt be thrilled by the talent and generosity of his students in sharing his time, home, and talent for audiences in need of uplifting music. But also humble.

The Tribute to Leon Fleisher was first aired on September 27 at 3:30 - with the Pre-Concert Talk preceding at 3:05 p.m. It was streamed be viewed through October 2020 at CC2nd.org-on three different formats. The Pre-Concert Talk lasts 25 minutes; the concert itself was an hour and 15 minutes long.

The Tribute launches the 2020-2021 season of Community Concerts, which offers programs that are free and open to the public.


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