Excerpts are from an interview with master...


November 02, 1993

THE FOLLOWING excerpts are from an interview with master Peabody piano teacher and virtuoso performer Leon Fleisher in the November-December issue of the BSO's Overture magazine:

"As regards the basic tenets of the capitalist form of democracy, I have some qualms about how healthy those tenets are for the propagation of the arts" because the American system tends to focus on short-term, physical and quantifiable results.

"What is not realized is that studying the arts can be of long-term benefit to a civilization or people. The arts are the highest form of human endeavor. They are a synthesis of our emotional, spiritual, psychological and technical capacities. The study of the arts develops the very abilities we are looking for in our youngsters today -- the capacity for abstraction, the understanding that rarely in life is there one right 'yes' answer, life being a multiplicity of shades between black and white. The delicate gradations and balances . . . these are the elements required not only in the arts but in politics as well. We have become enamored of our computers and less concerned about what they transmit.

"One of the great challenges . . . is that in America we want to make a melting pot, so that many different peoples, peoples of different backgrounds, should be able to live contiguously. But I am not sure that a melange of all their cultures is going to be to the benefit of all. The beauty and variety of these cultures have come down to us over centuries of practice and refinement. What a pity to put them into a blender!

". . . Great art has no need to be popularized. The number of people for whom great music is vital is always going to be much smaller than the number of people who get their excitement from sports or the movies. If it wasn't that way, we'd wind up with Einsteins on every block and Michelangelos on every street. The great stuff is rarer than the non-great stuff. As time goes along, the level of mediocrity is constantly rising, and we are in danger of accepting the mediocre. My fear is that, in an effort to dispense Eurocentric music on as wide a scale as possible, one dilutes it.

". . . Music has the double challenge . . . that it is totally abstract. You can grab a piece of sculpture and examine it from all sides. But music passes in time. It takes concentration to hear a piece. This popularization of the art of music runs the risk of making the reception of the art a passive act. Concert halls are not our living room. The musicians are not up there on a screen. Great performances take enormous study and concentration to arrive at. The listener must participate in that concentration.

". . . If you watch a great sunset, you can't get the same impression if your eyes constantly flick up and down, and from side to side. You see it best if you fix your eyes on one place, concentrate on it, and take in the other parts with peripheral vision. It is the same with our ears."

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