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Leon Fleischer, playing with two hands, comes to the Pantages

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on April 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm |
April 13, 2009 12:10 pm

Pianist Leon Fleischer. Photo courtesy Tacoma Philharmonic.

This Sunday, one of the world’s greatest pianists will play the Pantages, courtesy of the Tacoma Philharmonic. Not only that, but he’ll play with what for him is a relatively recent phenomenon–using both hands.

It’s Leon Fleischer, of course, that child prodigy of two Jewish immigrants who began playing at four just by listening to his brother’s piano lessons. Soon after, he studied with piano great Artur Schnabel, debuting with the New York Philharmonic at 16 and launching into an international career. Until, at 37, it all fell apart: Fleischer suddenly began to suffer from a neurological disorder called focal dystonia, which removed all sensation and control from two fingers in his right hand. His career was cut short, his family fell apart and he considered suicide, before deciding to devote himself to teaching, conducting and learning left-hand piano repertoire (of which there’s actually a lot.)

Just five years ago, though, Fleischer’s story had an unbelievably happy ending: Rolfing and botox injections restored function in his fingers, and his comeback in 2004 with the CD “Two Hands” is well-known.

On Sunday, Fleischer will play Bach, Debussy, Albeniz and Chopin–with two hands–in a Tacoma recital as part of his 80th birthday tour. The concert will begin with a screening of the 17-minute, Academy Award-nominated documentary on his life, “Two Hands,” by Nathaniel Kahn.

Fleischer isn’t just a heart-warming success story. He’s a phenomenal pianist, being the first living musician to be inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2000 and winning a Kennedy Center Honor in 2007, among many other awards around the globe. Don’t miss this chance to hear him play.

Concert 3 p.m., pre-concert talk 2 p.m. Sunday April 19 at the Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma. Tickets $32.50-$62.50. 253-591-5894, www.tacomaphilharmonic.org

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