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Curtis Mourns the Passing of Leon Fleisher

Mr. Fleisher served on the Curtis faculty from 1986 to 2011

Leon Fleisher - credit Eli TurnerThe Curtis Institute of Music mourns the passing of Leon Fleisher on August 2 at age 92. A legendary pianist, Mr. Fleisher served on the Curtis faculty from 1986 to 2011.

A student of Artur Schnabel, Leon Fleisher made his debut at Carnegie Hall with Pierre Monteux and the New York Philharmonic at age fifteen and quickly established himself as one of the world’s premier classical pianists. In 1952, he was the first winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium. Over multiple decades on the concert scene, he performed with and conducted many national and international orchestras, including those of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, and San Francisco.

Mr. Fleisher was a renowned educator. His longtime friend Gary Graffman, former president of Curtis, remembers him as “a great pianist and a very inspirational teacher. I’m only sorry he couldn’t teach at Curtis longer.” Mr. Fleisher’s eminent students at Curtis included Jonathan Biss (’01). “The great artists are the ones who find the central truth in the music they play. So few are able to do this; Leon Fleisher did so again and again,” Mr. Biss recalls. “His integrity was as awe-inspiring as his intensity; his sound was inimitable, a force of nature; his instinct for timing was so ineffably right, to experience it was to have your soul realigned. This is a devastating loss. Most of us will never reach the summits he regularly visited, but we have a responsibility to live up to the musical values he represented with such ferocity, or to die trying.”

“Leon was one of my closest friends for almost 75 years,” Mr. Graffman further remembers. “We’d spend hours and hours together in the evenings over many years playing for each other—and criticizing each other mercilessly! We’d play concertos together on two pianos, with the other one of us playing the orchestral part.”

Mr. Fleisher was also a member of the Peabody Conservatory’s faculty from 1959 until his death, and was artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center from 1984 to 1997. He was one of the distinguished recipients of the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors, and he was awarded the rank of Commander in the French government Order of Arts and Letters in 2005.

As Mr. Biss and Mr. Graffman’s sentiments beautifully express, Mr. Fleisher will be dearly missed. We extend our sympathies to his family, friends, students, and colleagues.

View obituaries from the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, and National Public Radio.