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David Leisner (Guitar, Arranger)

Born: December 22, 1953 - Los Angeles, California, USA

The American guitarist and composer, David Leisner, studied with John Duarte, John Kirkpatrick and Richard Winslow at Wesleyan University, graduating with BA in 1976. Primarily self-taught as both guitarist and composer, he briefly studied guitar with John Duarte, David Starobin and Angelo Gilardino and composition with Richard Winslow, Virgil Thomson, Charles Turner and David Del Tredici.

David Leisner is an extraordinarily versatile musician with a multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, a distinguished composer, and a master teacher.


David Leisner's career as a guitarist began auspiciously with 2nd Prize at the Toronto International Guitar Competitions in 1975, and Silver Medal at the International Guitar Competition of Geneva in 1981. He made his New York debut in 1979, playing Charles Ives, Benjamin Britten, J.S. Bach and his own work. In the 1980's, a disabling hand injury, focal dystonia, interrupted his performing career in mid-stream and plagued him for 12 years. Through a pioneering approach to technique based on his understanding of the physical aspects of playing the guitar, Leisner gradually rehabilitated himself. Now completely recovered, he has once again resumed an active performing career, earning accolades wherever he plays.

David Leisner has appeared as a soloist with many internationally renowned orchestras, including L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, New York Chamber Ensemble, and the Chamber Orchestra of New England. About his Piazzolla performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that "the audience reacted in a frenzy that nowadays, few L.v. Beethoven or Bruckner concerts can generate." Also in great demand as a chamber musician, he has performed chamber music at the Santa Fe, Rockport, Vail Valley, Cape and Islands, Bargemusic, Bay Chamber and Angel Fire Festivals, with Eugenia Zukerman, Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Shelton, Ida Kavafian, the Vermeer Quartet and many others.

Regarded as one of the world's leading classical guitarists, his superb musicianship and provocative programming have been applauded by critics and audiences around the world. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, David Leisner has introduced many important new works and has been a tireless advocate for neglected gems of the past. He has premiered works by many important composers, including Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Sculthorpe and Osvaldo Golijov. He was also a pioneer in the rediscovery of Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856), whose music he recorded on The Viennese Guitar (Titanic) and edited for publication by the Theodore Presser Company, as well as Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773-1830), whose music he recorded on an Azica CD to be released in early 2008.

David Leisner's recent seasons have taken him around the USA, including his solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, a major tour of Australia and New Zealand, and debuts and reappearances in Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico and Mexico. An innovative three-concert series at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall, included the first all-Bach guitar recital in New York’s history. In the USA, he has appeared on concert series in such notable venues as Boston's Jordan Hall and Gardner Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, Royce Hall in Los Angeles, the Folly Theater in Kansas City, the St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe, and the Augustine Guitar Series in New York City.

A featured recording artist for Azica Records, David Leisner has released 5 highly acclaimed solo CD’s of music by J.S. Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mertz and Schubert, Contemporary composers and his own compositions. A recent release is the Naxos recording of the Hovhaness Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. His collaborations with Boston Symphony Orchestra flutist Fenwick Smith have been recorded on the Etcetera and Koch labels, with music by Rorem and Daniel Pinkham, and his most recent chamber music recordings of Hovhaness and Haydn are with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis on Telarc and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Koch. The Mel Bay company has just released a solo concert DVD called Classics and Discoveries.


David Leisner has also become a highly respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. Fanfare magazine described it as “rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful”. Guitar Review wrote, “Not many composers manage to be equally satisfying to the hands, the ear and the mind as Leisner has.” His compostions include: String Quartet 1981; Duos for guitar with violin, cello or voice, 1982-1984. His works have been performed worldwide by such eminent artists as Sanford Sylvan, Paul Sperry, Robert Osborne, Juliana Gondek, Susan Narucki, D'Anna Fortunato, Warren Jones, Eugenia Zukerman, Benjamin Verdery, Cavatina Duo, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Arc Duo, Saturday Brass Quintet, the Eastman and Oberlin Percussion Ensembles and orchestras from coast to coast. His Dances in the Madhouse, in both its original version for violin and guitar and as an arrangement for orchestra, has received hundreds of performances. Leisner’s complete works for flute and guitar have been recorded by the Cavatina Duo on the much acclaimed Acrobats album for the Cedille label, and he himself recorded his complete solo guitar works on Self-Portrait for Azica. Other works currently available on CD are on the SonyClassical, Dorian, Centaur, Town Hall, Signum, Acoustic Music, ABC, Athena, Fleur de Son and Barking Dog labels.

Recent commissions and premieres include A Timeless Procession for baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and string quartet, Of Darkness and Light for the Stones River Chamber Players, Vision of Orpheus for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Leisner, Embrace of Peace for the Fairfield (CT) Orchestra, which was described by the Westport News as reflecting "a brilliant intellect in combination with brilliant sensitivity," and Battlefield Requiem for cellist Laurence Lesser and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble. He has received grants from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the American Music Center, the Alice M. Ditson Fund, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and Meet the Composer.


David Leisner was a teacher of guitar at Amherst College from 1976 60 1978. He is currently co-chairman of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music and taught at the New England Conservatory from 1980. His lively master-classes have been featured at such institutions as the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music, Graz University, Yale University, USC, the Cleveland and Peabody Institutes of Music, San Francisco and Cincinnati Conservatories, and many schools and music festivals around the world.

David Leisner has been acclaimed as "a triple-threat performer" by The New York Times and a "serious, exploratory and imaginative musician" by The Boston Globe.

Source: David Leisner Website (Photos by Kate Raudenbush); International Who's Who in Music & International Directory (13th Edition, 1992/93)
Contributed by
AryOron (June 2008)

David Leisner: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

David Leisner - Classical Guitarist & Composer (Official Website)
David Leisner (Theodor Presser Company)
Manhattan School of Music: Faculty Bio: David Leisner
David Leisner (Doberman-Yppan)

David Leisner (Wikipedia)
David Leisner Biography (Naxos)
David Leisner - Biography (AMG)

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