Misha Makes Good
Sad News From New Jersey

Both Hands

Dsc03446_1A packed house at the People's Symphony last night to see the venerable pianist Leon Fleisher in recital. For those of you unfamiliar with Fleisher's story: he was on his way to a promising career as a concert pianist when, in 1964, he was afflicted with a repetitive stress disorder, leaving him with limited feeling in his right hand. He has said it was like, "trying to play while wearing a glove." For the next 35 years, he only played works written for the left hand, of which there are a surprisingly large number. (One of the first concerts I ever saw was Fleisher playing Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand with the NJSO.)

In 2000, he was able to return to performing with both hands, thanks to successful treatments using accupuncture and other forms of alternative medicine. An Oscar-nominated documentary chronicled his story, and in 2004 he came out with the recording Two Hands, his first recording of two-hand piano music in over forty years.

Last night's concert featured several selections from that recording, including Bach's "Sheep MayDsc03448  Safely Graze" and the Schubert Piano Sonata D. 960. There were also two selections for the left hand, Leon Kirchner's For the Left Hand (written for Fleisher in 1995) and Brahms' huge Chaconne (for the left hand), from Bach's Violin Partita No. 2.

Fleisher played with stillness and nobility, radiating the authority he has earned not only as a pianist, but as one of the greatest teachers of the past 40 years. If there were occasional flubbed notes or strange tempi, he more than made up for it with his heartfelt, probingly intelligent readings. At the end, the huge crowd showed their appreciation with the largest ovation I've seen in six years at the People's Symphony, a testament not only to his musicianship, but to his courage.