The premiere of a new concerto for four harps is enough to make headlines. When it is composed, conducted, and performed by musicians in one family? Well, that’s enough to make history.
—by Charlene ConnorThere are certain family names that are synonymous with their chosen professions. Politics has the Kennedy family, American football has the Manning family, and the harp world? Well, we have the Fleisher family. Siblings Deborah and Dickie Fleisher are both professional harpists in Florida—Dickie performs with the Naples Philharmonic and Deborah teaches at the University of Miami. Their younger sister Leah, though not a full-time harpist, is an accomplished player in her own right. Dickie is married to Kayo Ishamura, Principal Harpist with the Jacksonville Symphony. The Fleisher siblings all started studying the harp with their grandmother, Nettie Druzinsky, who among her many accomplishments was the first female conductor on Broadway. Their uncle was longtime Chicago Symphony Orchestra harpist Eddie Druzinsky. And their father? Just one of the foremost pianists of the last century, Leon Fleisher.
Last October when we heard that the Naples (Fla.) Philharmonic was premiering a four-harp concerto performed by four members of the Fleisher family (siblings Deborah Fleisher, Dickie Fleisher, Leah Fleisher, and Dickie’s wife Kayo Ishamura), conducted by their father, Leon Fleisher, and written by yet another family member, composer Nicholas Jacobson-Larson, we knew it was an event we couldn’t miss. Ft. Lauderdale harpist Charlene Connor sat down with the four Fleisher siblings in Naples just before the premiere to find out more about the concerto and this fascinating musical family.
Harp Column: I can’t believe that we are having a world premiere of a four-harp concerto, probably the first four-harp concerto ever. First, I just wanted to find out about this concerto that you’re performing this weekend, Fantasia for Four Harps and Orchestra, written by another family member, Nicholas Jacobson-Larson. I think that makes it a collaboration of six family members—the four harpists, the composer, and your father, Leon, as the conductor. Can you tell me how this came about—the commissioning of this work and coming up with the idea for four harps?
Deborah: Yes, we went on a cruise last summer—a family cruise on the Black Sea.
HC: I was wondering about that because you told me about that incredible cruise.
Deborah: Yes, and Dad had the idea after the cruise.
HC: It was a small cruise ship, right? Eighty-four people and 15 were Fleisher family members! You all got to go because then you did all the performing. You did concertos and duos and all kinds of solo concerts—what a wonderful family vacation that was!
Deborah: Except for getting the harps over there. That was something…
Kayo: No. Getting the harps there was fine, coming back was the problem!