FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is deeply saddened to announce the death of Jorja Fleezanis, Dorothy Richard Starling Chair Emerita in Violin Studies, at the age of 70. She died on Friday, Sept. 9, at her home in Lake Leelanau, Michigan.
Fleezanis was appointed professor of music in violin in 2009 and served on the Jacobs School of Music faculty for more than a decade, including as Henry A. Upper Chair in Orchestral Studies and Dorothy Richard Starling Chair in Violin Studies. She retired from her full-time position in 2020, serving as adjunct faculty the following year. Most recently, she was teaching at Interlochen Center for the Arts and the Music Academy of the West.
“Jorja Fleezanis was truly one of a kind,” said Abra Bush, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. “Her dedication to and passion for her craft were contagious, touching everyone she met or who had the pleasure of seeing her perform, and igniting the same excitement in her students. Her incredible commitment, wisdom and presence enabled her to be a trailblazer for generations to come. We are grateful to be part of her legacy; she will be sorely missed.”
The daughter of Greek immigrants, Fleezanis was born on March 19, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan. Her early interest in piano gave way to study of the violin through local teacher and icon Ara Zerounian.
“When I heard my first recording of Fritz Kreisler that my violin teacher gave me when I was nine, the first sounds that man played, that first little groove on the record—I was sent into cosmic orbit,” Fleezanis said on the “Talking Beats with Daniel Lelchuk” podcast in February 2021. “It was the most lovingly, tenderly … like your grandfather singing to you. It was so immediate and possessed me. Honestly, I’ve always wanted to have that sound come out somewhere in my playing.”
After attending Cass Tech High School, a beacon for the arts in Detroit, she attended Interlochen Center for the Arts. Her college studies were at the Cleveland Institute of Music then the University of Cincinnati–College-Conservatory of Music.
Upon graduation, Fleezanis joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, then helped start and serve as concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. After this period, she helped found and was violinist of the Trio d’Accordo, which performed for nearly four years. She then became associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony for eight years, until 1989.
While there, she married Michael Steinberg, the noted music critic, lecturer and writer who was the orchestra’s program publications director and artistic advisor. At that time, she was also a founding member of the FOG Trio, with pianist Garrick Ohlsson and cellist Michael Grebanier.
Fleezanis was concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1989 to 2009—the longest-tenured concertmaster in the orchestra’s history and only the second woman in the U.S. to hold the title of concertmaster in a major orchestra when appointed.
A devoted teacher, Fleezanis became an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music in 1990. She also enjoyed teaching roles with other organizations: as guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory, where she served on the faculty from 1981 to 1989; teacher and coach at the New World Symphony (1988 forward); teacher and artist at the Round Top International Festival Institute in Texas (1990-2007); artist-in-residence at the University of California, Davis; artist and mentor at the Music@Menlo Festival (2003-08); and faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 2016.
She had been a visiting teacher at the Boston Conservatory, The Juilliard School, the Shepherd School of Music and Interlochen Academy and Summer Camp. She was also a frequent guest mentor at Britten Pears Center at Snape Maltings, England, in programs for both young musicians and professional orchestral violinists.
Fleezanis had numerous works commissioned for her, including by the Minnesota Orchestra with the John Adams Violin Concerto and “Ikon of Eros” by John Tavener, the latter recorded on Reference Records. Her recording of the complete violin sonatas of Beethoven with the French fortepianist Cyril Huvé was released in 2003 on the Cyprés label. Other recordings include Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Brilliant Sky, Infinite Sky” on CRI, commissioned for her by the Schubert Club, and, with Garrick Ohlsson, Stefan Wolpe’s Violin Sonata for Koch International.
“We can’t ever really enjoy positive optimism unless we’ve gone through a certain amount of darkness,” continued Fleezanis on the “Talking Beats with Daniel Lelchuk” podcast. “And I think darkness doesn’t mean we have to give up and despair. But when we listen to our despair in a musical way, like with Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann—they’re special people.
“These three gentlemen, particularly, get me to that place of despair, darkness and a heaviness that is hard to bear alone. And sometimes when you share that in the presence of a musical voice like these three, you come away, and that dark part of you is much less painful. Those feelings aren’t in your cells anymore; they have gone to an upper level of experience. Maybe that’s inspiration, maybe that’s ecstatic hope that somebody else has gone through this.”
The Jacobs School of Music Chamber Orchestra concert at 8 p.m. this Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Auer Hall will be dedicated to Fleezanis. The concert, led by Alexander Kerr, is free and open to the public.
A memorial service will be held in Minneapolis at a future date. Donations may be made to The Michael Steinberg and Jorja Fleezanis Fund.