Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson: The Waltz of One Piano, Four Hands

By Litzelman, James | American Music Teacher, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson: The Waltz of One Piano, Four Hands


Litzelman, James, American Music Teacher


Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson will present an evening concert at the 2017 MTNA National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

In addition, Fleisher will serve as clinician for the advanced piano master class during the conference. (See pages 30 and 31 for information.) James Litzelman, MTNA member and the AMT Editorial Committee chair, recently had the opportunity to ask them about their careers and future music plans.

James Litzelman (JL): We're delighted that the two of you will be performing a four-hand recital at our conference this March! How often do you perform together?

Leon Fleisher (LF): We perform together rather frequently, actually--at least a dozen times each year.

Katherine Jacobson (KJ): Leon and I are very much looking forward to playing a recital for MTNA in March. For the past several years, we have performed hundreds of duo-piano concerts around the world including Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Library of Congress, Tokyo, Beijing and Brussels--on the very same stage that Leon won the Queen Elizabeth Competition!

JL: Do you focus mostly on 4-hand repertoire, or two-piano or concerto?

LF: Four-hand repertoire, mostly. There's some really beautiful music there.

KJ: Yes, our recitals have focused on the four-hand piano repertoire. We have enjoyed performing and recording the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 242 for Sony, and we have also played it several times in its original version for three pianos, most recently with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia with Alon Goldstein.

JL: Ms. Jacobson, one of the first questions that our readers might want to know is "What is it like to collaborate with Leon Fleisher?"

KJ: It is invariably an intense experience due to the magnetic force of Leon's musical vision. He has a powerful way of drawing his collaborators inside that world. I have been affected by that. Leon is a big proponent of the idea that the performer is there solely for the music and the performer's ego should not be part of the equation. He often likens the performer to being a vessel through which the music pours.

JL: Mr. Fleisher, I wonder how Artur Schnabel may have impacted you in this regard. You began your studies with him at age 9, studying with him for almost 10 years. Could you speak about what it was like to study with a man such as Schnabel? Although you were a prodigy, you were only 9, so I wonder how much you were able to absorb from him at that young age.

LF: Schnabel was presented with the possibility of teaching me by two conductors--the then conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Pierre Monteux and Alfred Hertz, who was Monteux's predecessor. At the behest of President Roosevelt, Hertz started a WPA (Works Progress Administration) orchestra because so many musicians were out of work at the time. Hertz and his orchestra played a number of school concerts, and he had heard of me and invited me to play with him.

Whenever Schnabel came out to the west coast, he always had dinner at the Hertz's. The Hertz's recommended me to Schnabel, but he very politely turned me down--just on principle, simply because of my age. Up to that point, the youngest student he had ever accepted was 16. Another reason he declined was because of language. Schnabel spoke very often in abstraction, and he wasn't sure that a 9-year-old could understand all of the imagery he used in his teaching. That winter, when I was 9, Schnabel came out to play a concert, and as usual, he had dinner with the Hertz's. While they were dining, Mrs. Hertz snuck me into the house through the basement and had me sitting at the piano when the dining room doors opened after dinner and well ... there I was. Poor Schnabel was trapped! But being the gentleman he was, he proceeded to listen to me, and I remember very clearly I played some Liszt for him--the Sonetto 123 and the Beethoven Cadenza to the B-flat Concerto. …

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