Musical connection makes upcoming concert special for Clinton

· 6 min read

Musical connection makes upcoming concert special for Clinton

Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra Music Director Edward Polochick (left) and Glenn Korff School of Music Professor of Piano Mark Clinton.
Edward Polochick (left), director of Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra, and Mark Clinton, professor of piano.

Nebraska’s Mark Clinton, professor of piano, will perform “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor,” one of Brahms’ most beloved pieces, with Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. April 5 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

The composition holds special meaning for Clinton and Edward Polochick, music director for Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra. The two share a connection with famed pianist Leon Fleisher, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 92. Fleisher taught piano at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University for more than 60 years, and both Polochick and Clinton were his students. The Brahms piano concerto was a signature part of Fleisher’s repertoire, and his 1958 recording of the piece with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra is widely considered to be the definitive recording of the piece.

Clinton studied piano with him during his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Peabody Institute, but first met him much earlier in life.

“I auditioned for him when I was 5 years old,” Clinton said. “My first piano teacher had a connection at Peabody, and he thought, well, this kid’s got some talent, maybe. So I did play for Fleisher. And then he said, well, he seems to be doing okay for now. Come back in a year or two.”

And he did, but between, he had changed teachers and said it was not a good situation.

“Fleisher picked up on that immediately and said he has not made the progress he should have made. Would you consider moving to the Baltimore area?” Clinton said. “We were not in Baltimore at that time. My parents made the decision to move to the Baltimore area, and my dad quit his job and found another job, sold their house, bought a new house, and there we were.”

He studied with one of Fleisher’s top graduate students at the time — now Juilliard faculty member Julian Martin — from the time he was 8 years old until he graduated from high school.

“About once a year, I would play for (Fleisher) and have a lesson with him,” Clinton said. “And then it was just kind of understood that when I was an undergraduate at Peabody, I would go into his studio.”

Clinton said Fleisher had the highest musical IQ of anybody he has ever met in his professional life.

“It was just off the charts,” he said. “He had a way of understanding music and having insight into the music—just get right to the heart of the matter. He had this ability to instantly assimilate information, figure it out, make sense of it and communicate that to the student.”

Clinton studied the Brahms concerto with him.

“Already at that time, it was known that this was his signature piece,” Clinton said. “Ed and I have been talking about collaborating on this for years, since this is a piece that’s very close to our hearts, and we’ve always wanted to perform this work together. And of course, Ed had the pleasure of conducting Leon performing this work several times, so it should be a truly memorable collaboration for both of us.”

Polochick said he has known about Fleisher since he was a child studying piano in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“Ultimately it was my dream to study with him later on, and after my undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College, I first went to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, then to The Peabody Conservatory (now part of Johns Hopkins University) to study with Fleisher,” Polochick said. “It was then and there where I also met Mark Clinton, who was studying with another pupil of Fleisher’s. And when Mark entered the Conservatory after high school (by this time I was invited onto the full-time faculty at the Conservatory), he then did sing in my chorus at Peabody. Leon was one of THE most iconic musicians ever, not just as a pianist, but also as a conductor and as a pedagogue.”

Polochick said Fleisher’s recording of the Brahms First Piano Concerto with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra is the definitive recording of the work.

“I’ve known it all my life and have had the great privilege to conduct it with Fleisher as a soloist several times, including a performance about two decades ago with Lincoln’s Symphony at Kimball Recital Hall,” he said. “Fleisher suffered from focal dystonia, a disorder which caused his fingers to collapse on his right hand. This crippling disorder ended his career as a two-handed pianist and forced him to find other avenues to continue in the field of music. For years, he had turned to conducting and teaching and tried a myriad of therapeutic and medical techniques to regain use of his right hand. I conducted one of his first performances in Baltimore after his return to two-handed playing.”

Polochick said Clinton was one of the most talented musicians to have graduated from the Peabody Conservatory.

“During the years he attended the Conservatory to study with Fleisher, I got to know his family very well, and I was bowled over to discover that he ended up at UNL on the piano faculty when I became music director of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra in 1998.”

Polochick said Brahms’ piano concerto is one of the most beautifully lyrical, dramatic and challenging concertos ever written for the piano.

“All of the concertos of Brahms (four in all) are actually major symphonies with an incredible solo part included,” he said. “What I find most exhilarating about this collaboration is the fact that both Mark and I studied with the great Leon Fleisher and face the awesome responsibility to carry on the ‘mantel’ of this great musician every chance we get to perform. It is unbelievably special that we each get this opportunity to perform this particular work for which Fleisher has been so aptly and iconically connected.”

Clinton said it will be a special moment for them to share.

“To share this moment, having the connection that we have with Leon — there will be a lot of memories onstage that night, for sure,” he said. “And what’s always special about playing with LSO for me is having so many of my really dear friends and colleagues there on stage sharing the experience with me. And not just colleagues, but former students, too. All of that makes it very, very special.”

Polochick is eager to share the piece and this special moment with the audience.

“Words cannot describe the excitement of the two of us joining forces under the musical halo of Leon Fleisher,” Polochick said. “Do not miss this performance!”

For more information on the performance and ticket information, visit

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