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SF Performances celebrates Leon Fleisher at 90 featuring; Jonathan Biss / San Francisco Classical Voice

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As life expectancy has gotten longer, many artists have continued to play concerts well into their golden years. Legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz performed well into his 80s, and many of the top leading pianists today such as Martha Argerich are well into their 70s. In recent years, notable pianists such as Meneham Pressler (born in 1923, now 95) Gary Graffman (b.1928) celebrated their 90th birthdays with concerts. This year, San Francisco's own Leon Fleisher and his best-known protégé, Jonathan Biss, follow suit by celebrating Fleisher's 90th with a concert tour. They began at Carnegie Hall, played two more concerts on the East Coast, and then finally came home to the Herbst Theatre on Feb. 12.

Presented by San Francisco Performances, this celebration was no ordinary recital. Fleisher began the concert with a quietly self-assured reading of Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, arranged by Egon Petri. Taken at a relaxed tempo, the steady rhythm evoked the ticking of a clock, as if the music was a narrative of the pianist's long life, with different sections depicting different characters and themes, from peace to struggles. The reminiscence concluded quietly but with a sense of immense satisfaction.

Then, Jonathan Biss took the stage to deliver a free and dynamic reading of Beethoven's late sonata, Op.29 in E Major. The first movement sounded like youthful wings soaring into the sky, with a sense of nervousness and uncertainty, though the stern and somewhat aggressive reading of the second movement presented a contrast, marred by minor errors. In the third movement, which consists of a theme and variations, Biss brought back a sense of freedom with some surprising rubato, but each of the variations were painted with different characters. The staccati in the second variation depicted joy and delight, and the whirling third variation was full of energy. However, it seemed as if Biss was startled by something, with an extra beat inserted after a repeat in the following variation, and a memory slip in the fifth variation that stopped the music cold. After collecting himself, Biss rendered the final variation and its infamous trills with bravura, a wide dynamic range, and tremendous exuberance.
PHOTO: Benjamin Ealovega, Leon Fleisher 

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