D Kevin McNeirLifestyle

Community Concerts at Second Opens Season with Leon Fleisher Tribute

Pianist Brian Ganz Triumphs in Celebration Honoring Former Teacher, Friend

Internationally acclaimed pianist Brian Ganz continues to bolster his already impressive legion of fans here in the Baltimore/D.C. area, maintaining a hardy schedule of creatively-planned concerts which, as music writer John Terauds concludes, display “his remarkable sensitivity and musicality.

Terauds, an award-winning journalist based in Toronto who has long assessed the terrain of classical music, further notes, “Lucky are those people who get a chance to hear this artist perform.”

And on Sept. 27, in a free performance which kicked off the new season for Baltimore’s Community Concerts at Second (CC2nd) and will remain available for public viewing through Oct. 27, Ganz paid tribute to his mentor and longtime instructor, the legendary pianist Leon Fleisher, who died Aug. 2 at the age of 92.

Fleisher, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, performed during CC2nd’s very first season (1987-1988) and helped launch what has since become a fixture for both seasoned and newfound lovers of classical music. He further solidified his legacy as a teacher for dozens of students, including Ganz, each of whom would later perform in CC2nd’s annual series, while helping his young protégées enhance their abilities as masters of the pianoforte.

Prior to his performance, Ganz participated in a pre-concert talk with Marian Hahn who, among her many achievements, launched her solo career in 1976 upon winning the International Leventritt Competition before making her debut at Carnegie Hall as a Concert Artists Guild winner — later going on to tour the world with great success. She currently serves as the Singapore Conservatory of Music Chair in Piano at the Peabody Conservatory where she’s been a member of the piano faculty since 1987.

Leon Fleisher (Photo by Ned Burgess)
Leon Fleisher (Photo by Ned Burgess)

The connection between Ganz and Fleisher, which first began during the former’s teenage years, would eventually come full circle under the auspices of the Peabody Conservatory of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore where Ganz once studied under the school’s then-leading piano teacher, Fleisher. Years later, Ganz would be invited to become a member of the piano faculty of the Peabody Conservatory.

Ganz, a native of Columbia, Md., known for his engaging storytelling and what he has coined as “musical gardening,” dedicated the concert to Fleisher in a stunning performance which included Chopin’s “Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40, No. 1,” Mozart’s “Minuet in D Major, K. 355” and two compositions by J.S. Bach which Fleisher previously interpreted, eventually securing them among his often-requested, signature pieces from his expansive repertoire: “Sheep May Safely Graze” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Dr. Mellasenah Morris, a celebrated African American pianist, board vice president and music committee chair for CC2nd and former dean of Peabody, shared her thoughts about Fleisher and the lasting impact he continues to have on many of today’s most respected pianists.

“We had already contracted Brian for the concert for our season opener which we bill about two years in advance,” said Morris, who now lives in Baltimore County and has completed three degrees from Peabody where, in 1964, she met Fleisher for the first time.

“It just so happened that Leon died just prior to Brian’s performance. Brian wanted to ensure that his recital served as a tribute to his former teacher and colleague — even expanding his repertoire to include several pieces related to Leon [who gave his first public recital at age 8 and debuted at Carnegie Hall at 16] and which he would perform throughout his career to worldwide acclaim. Brian ended his concert with a piece for left hand only — a performance mode which would become Leon’s only means of playing the piano after an unfortunate illness [at the age of 36] left him without the use of his right hand.

Mellasenah Y. Morris
Mellasenah Y. Morris (Courtesy photo)

“Leon was a brilliant artist who would work with about eight students per year while providing a rare form of instruction that helped his students find their own unique sound and musical interpretive skills that have remained with each of them decades after their final lessons with Leon — an incomparable musician, instructor and conductor,” she said.

Morris noted that despite CC2nd being forced to move to a virtual performance season this fall in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as the saying goes, “the show must go on.”

“We usually present 16 concerts – evenly divided between afternoon performances with soloists, duos or small chamber groups from all over the world and candlelight concerts performed by members of the Baltimore Symphony,” she said. “Of course, now we’re announcing the season’s offerings in spurts and adjusting as best we can.

“But with the virtuals, we’re actually finding that we have been able to reach a lot more people,” she said. “We’ve already had over 2,000 visitors view Brian’s recital. So, while we wish we could continue our long tradition of in-person, free concerts, something positive has come out of this unprecedented experience.”

To watch the complete Ganz performance now through Oct. 27, go to CC2nd.org.

Lauded as the city’s best free concert series by the Baltimore Sun, Community Concerts at Second, founded in 1987 and located at 4200 Saint Paul St., Baltimore, is the largest provider of free, professional concerts in the Metropolitan Baltimore area. Their mission remains to enrich the greater Baltimore community by presenting free professional music performances of lasting artistic value.

For more information, contact info@cc2nd.org.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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