Fleisher leaves Tanglewood position

December 03, 1997|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

Renowned pianist Leon Fleisher yesterday announced publicly that he has left his position as artistic director of Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, a post he has held since 1985.

Fleisher, who also has taught at Peabody Institute for 39 years, yesterday sent a letter to Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Seiji Ozawa and to board members, in which he first thanked them for the opportunity to direct at Tanglewood, then stated: "I have not resigned. I consider myself to have been relieved of my position as Artistic Director."

The letter went on to characterize the behavior of Ozawa and of the leadership of the board as "unprofessional, unprincipled, duplicitous and totally self-serving."

Boston Symphony administrators could not be reached for comment.

Fleisher has held the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation chair in piano at Peabody since 1958. He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 16 in 1944. The pianist, who studied with Artur Schnabel, won the rigorous Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Competition in 1952.

But in 1965, damage to the muscles of his right hand forced him to withdraw from two-handed concert playing and to play with his left hand only. Eventually he also built a career in conducting. In the last few years, however, Fleisher has begun to perform again with both hands.

The 70-year-old pianist first announced his intention to leave Tanglewood, a music school operated by the symphony, in a private meeting with Boston Symphony music director Ozawa on Nov. 22 in Florence, Italy. His departure comes after months of highly publicized controversy surrounding personnel decisions made by Ozawa.

Last year, Ozawa asked longtime music center administrator Richard Ortner to resign from his position at Tanglewood, a decision that upset some faculty members and eventually triggered last month's resignation of its chairman, pianist Gilbert Kalish.

Last month, Ozawa also named Ellen Highstein as director of the center, a newly created position. At Tanglewood, Highstein, who headed New York's Concert Artists Guild, reports directly to Boston Symphony managing director Mark Volpe -- rather than to Fleisher.

In his letter, Fleisher wrote that he felt he had been effectively replaced by Highstein, adding, "How much simpler and cleaner it would have been had you but said to us: 'Off with your heads!' "

Fleisher is on tour in Spain and Portugal through mid-December and could not be reached.

A Boston Symphony Orchestra spokeswoman said yesterday that managing director Mark Volpe was traveling and could not be reached, and music director Ozawa also could not be reached.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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