The career of renowned pianist Leon Fleisher is a testament to strength of the will.
A prodigy who began playing at age 4, Fleisher delivered his first concert at age 6 and made his Carnegie Hall debut 10 years later. At age 36, during the pinnacle of his career, Fleisher’s right hand was immobilized by a mysterious illness that involuntarily curled his fourth and fifth fingers.
It wouldn’t be until 30 years later, in 1991, that his debilitating ailment would be diagnosed as focal dystonia. But instead of giving up on playing with his right hand, Fleisher took up a repertory for left-hand piano and began conducting, teaching and mentoring. In 1995, with the help of experimental treatments --among them botox injections to paralyze the nerve and prevent his digits from coiling -- Fleisher regained playing ability in both hands.
Leon Fleisher, now 83, continues to perform, conduct and teach all over the world. On Friday night, he returns to Alice Tully Hall to play with friend and fellow acclaimed pianist Gilbert Kalish. The program for the event, titled “An Evening with Fleisher & Kalish,” will include works from three centuries: Franz Schubert’s “Fantasie in F minor for Piano, Four Hands, D. 940, Op. 103”; John Harbison’s “Piano Quintet”; J.S. Bach’s “Schafe Können Sicher Weiden (“Sheep May Safely Graze”) for Piano, BWV 208”; and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s “Suite for Piano Left Hand, Two Violins, and Cello, Op. 23.”
Download the piano maestro’s recording of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” and watch his December 2010 performance in The Greene Space. (Fleisher performed with his left hand during the concert due to recent surgery on his right thumb for an arthritis-related condition.)