“The Maryland Lyric Opera Orchestra was formed one year ago,” says Maestro Louis Salemno, the organization’s musical director. “They consist of players from the region — it’s a freelance orchestra — and they played 13 engagements last season. They played only operas.”
Salemno decided it was time to let the orchestra expand its repertoire and shine in its own right. So this season, they will be performing two concerts without singers — but still with some very special guests. The first of these concerts is Tuesday, November 12, at Strathmore, and features Leon Fleisher, one of the world’s greatest pianists. Fleisher will join the orchestra as a soloist on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12. (Other selections on the program include the overture from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43.)
“The legacy of recordings Leon Fleischer has are unbelievable,” says Salemno, who is “over the moon” about the legendary pianist’s appearance. “It isn’t so much the technical wizardry. It is the depths of musicality. His recordings are iconic. He is a phenomenon.”
“I must say that I prefer [performing] by far to [retiring to] a beach in Florida,” says the 91-year-old Fleisher, who, in 2007, was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor. “Not that Florida and its beaches are lacking in their attraction, but being active in music has always been very enlivening for me. I find that very invigorating.”
Early in Fleisher’s career, at age 36, he developed the neurological disorder focal dystonia in two fingers on his right hand, rendering them immobile. He fought through it, for a long time playing with one hand only (he’s the subject of a 2006 documentary, Two Hands). Botox injections have helped considerably, and he once again plays with both hands.
“It’s a great, great quality of human beings that they don’t quit,” says Salemno of Fleisher’s perseverance. “What do we teach our young singers? I teach them stubbornness…. [and] I think about Mr. Fleischer.”
Fleisher agrees, saying it was his “obstreperous nature” that kept him from giving up once the diagnosis was made, and is thankful for the long career in performance, teaching, and conducting despite the dystonia. “Music is all very life-giving,” he says. “Music is so varied and so beautiful and offers so many opportunities. It’s wonderful. I’m very lucky in spite of my focal dystonia. I am a very lucky person.”
Leon Fleisher will perform with the Maryland Lyric Opera Orchestra on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Tickets are $25 to $75. Visit www.mdlo.org/calendar.