At 85, piano great Leon Fleisher has a teaching, conducting and performance schedule that would tire out someone 50 years younger. Just this year he's been to Taiwan, Japan and China. And he shows no signs of slowing down.
So it was something of a surprise when Fleisher learned that Sony, his longtime record label, planned to celebrate his birthday in July with a whopping 23-CD boxed set of recordings released between 1956 and 2009.
That's because such monumental boxed sets are usually reserved for an artist who is, to put it delicately, no longer with us.
"It scared the daylights out of me simply because I wondered what Sony knew that I didn't," he says with a laugh in a call from his home in New York City. "They don't usually do this until after your plane goes down. I really looked both ways before crossing the street after that."
Fleisher, who opens the new season of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State with a Sunday performance, says it never even occurs to him to stop playing.
"I don't think in terms of retirement," says the pianist, who received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007 in acknowledgement of his distinguished career. "I don't know what I would retire to. I'm doing what I love, what invigorates me, what vitalizes me."
Fleisher, who was born in San Francisco, started playing at age 4 and quickly developed prodigy status. (Pierre Monteux, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, called him "the pianistic find of the century" after Fleisher played with that orchestra at age 16.) But in the middle of his career, he lost the use of his right hand because of a medical condition called focal dystonia.
He turned to pieces that only required the use of his left hand, and he took up conducting with a passion. About a dozen years ago, thanks to Botox injections and a massage technique called Rolfing, he regained use of his right hand.
Fleisher used to have Rolfing regularly once or twice a week, but he doesn't have to anymore.
"I believe very strongly in several of the alternative medicine approaches," he says.
In Fresno he will demonstrate both his one-handed and two-handed techniques. His wife, concert pianist Katherine Jacobson, will join him in Ravel's "La Valse," Schubert's Fantasy and Brahms' Liebeslieder Walzer, all arranged for four hands.
He will offer solo performances of Takács' Toccata and Fugue for the left hand, and the J.S. Bach/Brahms piece Chaconne for the left hand from the Violin Partita in D Minor.
Upbeat and genial on the phone, he has a light touch in interviews, finding the humor in almost every topic. (He calls Jacobson, his third wife, his "Eroica," a reference to Beethoven's 3rd Symphony.)
Fleisher last visited the Keyboard Concerts series in 2007. For an artist who is used to playing in some of the biggest and most impressive concert halls in the world, he relishes the opportunity to make music in the smaller Fresno State Concert Hall.
"It presents different challenges, if it were," he says, "but the idea of that kind of intimacy is also very attractive."
Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson, 3 p.m. Sunday, Fresno State Concert Hall. keyboardconcerts.com, (559) 278-2337. $18, $12 seniors, $5 students.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, email@example.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.