The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Jorja Fleezanis, a member of the Orchestra's violin section during the 1975-76 season and a passionate, lifelong educator. She passed away at her home in Lake Leelanau, Michigan on September 10, 2022, at the age of 70.
Born on March 19, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan, Fleezanis began violin instruction at the age of eight, and as a teenager, attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts on scholarship and performed with the Detroit Youth Orchestra. She furthered her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Fleezanis' teachers included Mischa Mischakoff (CSO concertmaster from 1930 until 1937) in Chicago; Donald Weilerstein and David Cerone in Cleveland; and Walter Levin in Cincinnati. She was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Concert Associates Orchestra, concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and concerto soloist with the University of Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra.
According to a 1975 program book biography, "Of Greek descent and the only musician in her family, Detroit-born Jorja decided to shoot for the Chicago post as the test of her talent. She made it to the finals on three separate occasion, each time told by Maestro Solti personally that he would like her to audition again. Even after her third audition, Solti still wavered, calling for some further test. So she sat in with the Orchestra for a week — comfortable, exhilarated, totally in her element. At last Sir Georg was convinced and hired her on the spot."
Following her season in Chicago, she later served as associate concertmaster with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1989, she won the audition as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, becoming (at the time) only the second woman in the United States to hold that title in a major orchestra when appointed. Fleezanis remained in that position for twenty years until her retirement in 2009, as the longest-tenured concertmaster in the Minnesota Orchestra's history. During her time as concertmaster, two works were commissioned for her: John Adams' Violin Concerto and John Tavener's Ikon of Eros.
A passionate educator, Fleezanis was professor of orchestral studies at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music from 2009 until her retirement last year. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music from 1990 until 2009; at the Round Top International Festival Institute in Texas from 1990 until 2007; artist-in-residence at the University of California, Davis; guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory from 1981 to 1989; and artist and mentor at the Music@Menlo Festival from 2003 until 2010. Fleezanis had been teacher and coach with the New World Symphony since 1988 as well as on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 2016. She was a visiting teacher at the Boston Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Shepherd School of Music and the Interlochen Academy and Summer Camp, along with serving as a frequent guest and clinician at the Britten Pears Centre at Snape Maltings in England.
A longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, Jorja Fleezanis was preceded in death by her husband, American music critic and author Michael Steinberg.
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