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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 17, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 3
Peabody's Leon Fleisher to Receive Kennedy Center Honors Award

Leon Fleisher

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has selected Peabody's Leon Fleisher to be among those who will receive the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors Award, one of the nation's highest artistic tributes. The legendary pianist will be honored alongside Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Martin Scorsese and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson in recognition of a lifetime of contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

The 30th annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, to be attended by President Bush, will be held at the center on Dec. 2 and broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.

In a letter to the Johns Hopkins community, President William R. Brody described Fleisher, a member of the Peabody faculty since 1959, as "a prodigiously talented musician and a profoundly influential teacher.

"But, as significant as his music and his teaching are, it is his life — even more than his art — that is an inspiration to us all," Brody said.

A prodigy hailed as the greatest of his generation, Fleisher played with the San Francisco Symphony at age 14, two years later made his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York and quickly became one of the most sought-after soloists and recitalists in the world.

At the height of his powers, Fleisher, then in his 30s, was struck by a rare neurological condition that robbed him of the use of his right hand. Doctors told him he would never play again.

"But he never stopped," Brody said. "He never stopped playing, focusing on the left-handed repertoire. He never stopped teaching, shepherding generations of students including the great Peabody alumnus Andre Watts. He never stopped conducting, bringing the sweet ecstasy of the musical experience to countless audiences."

He also never stopped working to recover the use of his right hand and his full musical powers. Following a brain surgery, experimental treatments and years of rehabilitation, Fleisher made a dramatic comeback and in 1995 gave a performance at Carnegie Hall, his first two-handed concert in nearly four decades. Two Hands, Nathaniel Kahn's short documentary about Fleisher's remarkable journey, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007.


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