Mission: To Seek and Share Inspiration

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Q+A With Leon Fleisher


Leon Fleisher performs with the CSO February 5 - 6


Fanfare Cincinnati: This will be your first performance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 1987, although you’ve performed with other chamber ensembles in the region since then. What is special about performing in Cincinnati?

Leon Fleisher: Cincinnati occupies quite a unique position amongst the major orchestras in the country. You have an extraordinary history of extraordinary conductors going back to, what I remember, Max Rudolf and Thomas Schippers. These are all quite historic musicians. And they gave Cincinnati a kind of stamp of quality that is really quite rare.

FC: Your multi-faceted career has evolved to include teaching, conducting, performing, etc. How do you keep each facet fresh and interesting?

LF: I don’t have to keep it [fresh and interesting], it is so by its very nature by the difference in activities. Teaching is a fascinating activity. Usually the teacher learns more from a curious student than vice versa. And conducting is quite a different activity than playing an instrument. One of the examples might be the fact that a symphony orchestra, through its variety of instruments and the way they are played, provides often a real challenge for ensembles to be together. Some instruments respond very quickly and some instruments respond very slowly and to keep it going together is sometimes a challenge. The other thing I think is so extraordinary about orchestras is that we’re a country that’s in love with teams. For example on Sundays we are in love with a football team—this group of 11 people behaving as one and we are in awe of that. So just that in a sense of an orchestra of 80–90 playing as one—that is a team!

FC: Prokofiev’s Fourth Piano Concerto is one you’ve performed for quite some time, including a recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but this is the work’s CSO subscription premiere. What should audiences listen for in this piece?

LF: I’ve always resisted the idea that one should tell an audience or people listening to music what to listen for. Because in their eagerness to hear what they should be listening for, they don’t hear a lot of the rest of the piece. I think they should just kind of relax and hear whatever it is they hear. The thing about great art and great music is that you can listen and re-listen endless times and you will hear new and different things—new and different relationships and colors depending on who’s playing. And that’s one of the great riches of great art. Just keep your ears open.

FC: Your life story, including its challenges, has been well-documented. What is your advice to musicians (or even non-musicians) who face similar obstacles?

LF: It’s difficult to reduce to a sound-bite years of living, years of learning. I think perhaps what I could say is that even when things look darkest, it’s really to a certain extent just a point of view. If you can back off from whatever the problem is, it’s very possible, it’s not probable, that you will gain some kind of new insight that will lead to the possibility of something positive happening. In other words, even in the darkest of moments, there is hope, and give it a chance to make itself apparent.

FC: The CSO’s organizational mission is “To seek and share inspiration.” Where do you seek and find inspiration, musically or otherwise?

LF: I’m involved, as are most of the people connected with the CSO, with music, and it is a never-ending source of beauty, a never-ending source of challenge, and we’re unbelievably lucky to be involved with music, to be in the position of our life’s work being connected to such a degree with something we love. That’s unbelievably fortunate. So I think that the music itself is the greatest source of inspiration. At least for me.