Credit: The New York Times
Leon Fleisher, a leading American pianist in the 1950s and early ’60s who was forced by an injury to his right hand to channel his career into conducting, teaching and mastering the left-hand repertoire, died in August at a nearby hospice. He was 92 and lived much of his artistic life in Bolton Hill.
Mr. Fleisher came to believe that his career-altering malady, called focal dystonia, was caused by over-practicing — “seven or eight hours a day of pumping ivory,” he told The New York Times. For 30 years he tried virtually any cure that looked promising: shots of lidocaine, rehabilitation therapy, psychotherapy, shock treatments and Rolfing. At times, he said, he was so despondent that he considered suicide.
Joining the faculty at Peabody Conservatory in 1959, he devoted himself to teaching there for 60 years and at the Tanglewood Music Center in western Massachusetts, where he was artistic director from 1986 to 1997. Jonathan Palevsky, program director at Baltimore’s classical WBJC radio, called Fleisher “the classical music soul of the city.”
Barbara Holdridge, a contemporary of Fleisher and a longtime neighborhood resident and real estate investor, writing in The Baltimore Sun recalled first connecting with Fleisher. She was in New York and her husband Larry was at their home on W. Lanvale Street. holding a new record album by Fleisher in his hands when the phone rang. The caller told him “I think I’ve got a renter for Barbara’s Park Avenue house.” That renter was Fleisher.
Fleisher lived in the 1700 block of Park Avenue in an 1880s house for many years with his wife and family, first a tenant and then as its owner. He left a cement hand imprint in the basement: “L.F. 3-3-66.” Eventually, according to the Times, a combination of deep massage and Botox injections provided sufficient relief that he was able to resume his career as a two-handed pianist in 1995. He continued to play recitals and concertos and to make recordings until last year. His Sun obituary is here.
– Bill Hamilton