Leon Fleisher: Two Hands, Eighty Years

PIanist Leon Fleisher turns 80 on July 23rd.
His musicianship is the stuff of legend, and his personal story is as heartbreaking as it is life affirming. Leon Fleisher was well on his way to conquering the music world at 16, singled out as “one of the most gifted of the younger generation of keyboard artists” by Olin Downes in The New York Times and soon hailed quite simply as “the pianistic find of the century” by the great conductor Pierre Monteux. He was cruelly sidelined at the height of his powers by a rare neurological disease that lost him the use of his right hand. Undeterred, while being told by his doctors that he would never play again, he became an inspirational teacher and an inspired conductor, all the while playing-and in fact revitalizing-the left-handed repertory, determined not to be defeated. Fleisher was, as the Times dubbed him, “a pianist for whom never was never an option.” He underwent brain surgery, grueling experimental treatments, years of trials that certainly would have discouraged any ordinary mortal. Then, against all odds and baffling medical experts, he returned. “His comeback,” wrote Holly Brubach in The New York Times in 2007, “has catapulted him up next to Lance Armstrong as a symbol of the indomitable human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public.” (From Kennedy Center: Biographical Information for Leon Fleisher.)
Here’s an excerpt from a short documentary (Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story) that explores the impact of Leon Fleisher’s loss of use of his hand.