Stuttgart Chamber OrchestraI heard one of the greatest living musicians, Leon Fleisher, conducting and performing tonight with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra at the Metropolitan Art Museum. Like my own piano teacher, Aube Tzerko, Fleisher studied with Artur Schnabel in Berlin until they all fled the Nazis. Schnabel was one of the giants of 20th century piano: passionate, humble, humorous, serious, refined, wild, without pretense, never dull. Many of his recordings are now available in a collection, "Maestro Espressivo." Tzerko died in the 1990s and my last lesson with him was 30 years ago and I did not become a pianist by profession, but his spirit is with me. I think of him every day.

Leon could not perform for 30 years after injuring his right hand through over-zealous practice. He began conducting, and his life took a new turn. The only thing more glorious than making music on a piano is having a whole orchestra do it for you; most concert pianists never make it to the podium. (Ashkenazy was an exception. Paderewski got to run a country — better still!) "Suddenly, I realized that the most important thing in my life wasn't playing with my two hands: it was music," Leon wrote in the notes to tonight's concert. "The instrumentation becomes unimportant, and it's the substance and the content that takes over."

Substance, not form, guided tonight's choice of pieces. The program was not one of the grab-bag "surprise" models, invented in the 19th century for enthusiastic but unsophisticated new concertgoers. The typical pastiche consists of three pieces from three different periods: a "warm-up act" of a little harmless something followed by a concerto, intermission, then a big romantic or modern piece. The concertgoer is thereby forced to listen to what he does often not wish to hear, in an earnest, heavy-handed attempt to educate him. Leon's program, by contrast, was sweetly rational:

Boccherini: Symphony Opus 12 No. 4, "The House of the Devil"

Mozart: Piano Concerto in A, K 414


Mendelssohn, String Symphony No. 10 in B Minor

Hayden "Farewell" Symphony

I had never heard any one of these pieces performed live although I have been attending concerts in America's two biggest cities for decades. What a pleasure to hear good music and share Hayden's little joke. I won't spoil it for you, as you may be lucky enough to hear it performed live some day.

Leon has regained the use of his right hand after 30 years through a new medical treatment, and performed the piano concerto. Hearing him play is like breathing fresh sea air - I will not be a critic. He is on tour with the amazing young musicians of the Stuttgart; if they come to your town, do not on any account miss them. 


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