David Leisner

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David Leisner (born December 22, 1953) is a classical guitarist, composer, and teacher at the Manhattan School of Music and an expert on focal dystonia. He had the impairment for twelve years and recovered through methods that he developed.

Music career[edit]

Musician's dystonia[edit]

Leisner won the top prizes in the 1975 Toronto and 1981 Geneva International Guitar Competitions. In the 1980s, he was disabled by focal dystonia, a disorder that affected his right hand when playing guitar. He sought the advice of medical professionals from medical doctors of western medicine to acupuncturists without finding a cure. Although during this period he became an important and respected personality in the composition world, he was unable to keep away from the stage. He began performing music using only a few of the fingers on his right hand, and he performed difficult works that dazzled audiences unaware that he was injured. Eventually, through his study of large-muscle groups, he healed himself and teaches his discoveries to students in master classes and private lessons.


He has toured Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. He has also performed with the Atlanta Symphony, and 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 three-concert solo series in New York's Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall included the first all-Bach recital in New York's history. In recent years Leisner has been the Artistic Director of Guitar Plus, an annual series in New York devoted to chamber music with the guitar.

Recording and composing[edit]

Leisner's albums have included music by Bach, Villa-Lobos, Mertz and Schubert, contemporary composers, his own compositions, and an album of favorites, including the Britten Nocturnal and the Bach Chaconne. He has recorded guitar concertos by Alan Hovhaness and Andrew Thomas, as well as chamber music by Haydn, Ned Rorem, Daniel Pinkham, and Hovhaness. His recordings have drawn praise from musicians and critics worldwide[1]

He has recorded for Cedille, Sony Classical, Dorian, Centaur, Town Hall, Signum, Acoustic Music, ABC Records, Athena, Fleur de Son and Barking Dog labels. His orchestral, chamber, vocal and guitar works are published mostly by Theodore Presser Company, with other publications by Doberman-Yppan, Columbia Music, and G. Schirmer.

As a composer, Leisner's works have been performed worldwide by such eminent artists as Sanford Sylvan, Wolfgang Holzmair, Paul Sperry, Robert Osborne, Kurt Ollmann, Patrick Mason, Juliana Gondek, Susan Narucki, D'Anna Fortunato, Warren Jones, Eugenia Zukerman, David Starobin, Benjamin Verdery, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, the Cavatina Duo, the Arc Duo, the Saturday Brass Quintet, the Eastman and Oberlin Percussion Ensembles, and orchestras in the U.S.

Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, Leisner has premiered and commissioned many new works and has been an advocate for neglected works of the past. He has premiered works by David Del Tredici, Peter Sculthorpe, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Osvaldo Golijov, Randall Woolf, Carlos Carrillo, and Gordon Beeferman.

He contributed to reviving the music Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806–1856), and he has recorded versions of the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos as displayed in its original manuscripts. He praises the work of Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773–1830), a 19th-century composer who Leisner describes as the "Beethoven of the guitar."[citation needed]

Leisner is co-chairman of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. He taught at the New England Conservatory for twenty-two years. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he studied guitar with John Duarte, David Starobin, and Angelo Gilardino and composition with Richard Winslow, Virgil Thomson, Charles Turner, and David Del Tredici.

Awards and honors[edit]

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.


Solo guitar:

  • Bach: Cello and Lute Suites (Azica, 1998)
  • Villa-Lobos – The Complete Solo Guitar Works (Azica, 2000)
  • Music of the Human Spirit (Azica, 2002)
  • Le Romantique (Azica, 2003)
  • Self-Portrait (Azica, 2006)
  • Matiegka, the Beethoven of the Guitar (Azica, 2009)
  • Favorites (Azica, 2011)

Chamber music and concertos:

  • Music of Alan Hovhaness (Telarc)
  • Chamber Music of Daniel Pinkham (Koch)
  • Chamber Music of Ned Rorem (Naxos)
  • Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (Koch)
  • Hovhaness, Guitar Concerto, op. 325 (Naxos)
  • Thomas, The Heroic Triad (Opus One)

Recordings of Leisner compositions:

  • Crazy Jane: David Starobin and Patrick Mason (Bridge)
  • Acrobats: Cavatina Duo (Cedille)
  • Music of the Americas: Virginia Taylor and Timothy Kain
  • Dances in the Madhouse: Harris Coates Duo (Barking Dog)
  • Homages and Evocations: Pearl and Gray Guitar Duo (Dorian)
  • Haslop-Sanders Duo: Haslop-Sanders Duo (Centaur)
  • Bad Boy: Folkwang Guitarren Duo (Signum)
  • Orange Moon: Villa-Lobos Duo (Acoustic Music)
  • Red Cedar Collection: Bowland/Dowdall Duo (Fleur de Son)
  • Outdoor Shadows: Olson/De Cari Duo (Talking Cat)
  • Eve's Diary: Olson/De Cari Duo (Talking Cat)
  • Disturbed, a Lullaby: Aaron Larget-Caplan (Six String Sound)


Solo guitar

  • Labyrinths (16'), 2007 (Merion Music/Theodore Presser Company)
  • Disturbed, a Lullaby (5'), 2006 (Merion/Presser)
  • Nel Mezzo: Sonata for guitar (20'), 1998 (Merion/Presser)
  • Freedom Fantasies (19'), 1992 (Doberman-Yppan)
  • Four Pieces (15'), 1979, 1986 (Merion/Presser)
  • Billy Boy Variations (4'), 1983 (Merion/Presser)
  • Passacaglia and Toccata (6'), 1982 (Merion/Presser)

Voice and guitar

  • Eve's Diary (17'), soprano, 2015 (unpublished)
  • West Wind (16'), high voice, 2011 (unpublished)
  • Three James Tate Songs (9'), medium voice, 2007 (Merion/Presser)
  • Heaven's River (10'), soprano, 1991 (Dobermann-Yppan)
  • Five Songs of Devotion (16'), medium voice, 1989 (Columbia Music)
  • Confiding (30'), high voice, 1985-86 (Merion/Presser)
  • Outdoor Shadows (11'), high voice, 1985 (Merion/Presser)
  • Four Yiddish Songs (12'), medium (or high) voice, 1983 (Dobermann-Yppan)
  • Simple Songs (7'), medium voice, 1982 (AMP/G. Schirmer)


  • Embrace of Peace (14') for orchestra (2222 4221 1perc str), 1991 (Merion/Presser)
  • Dances in the Madhouse (13') for orchestra (2222 2200 1perc str), 1982, arranged for orchestra, 1989 (Merion/Presser)
  • Clouds and Waves (Rabindranath Tagore) (6') for young people's chorus and young people's string orchestra, 1993 (Unpublished)

Chamber music with guitar

  • Away (11') for flute and guitar, 2008 (unpublished)
  • Acrobats (13') for flute and guitar, 2002 (Dobermann-Yppan)
  • Vision of Orpheus (17') for guitar and string quartet, 2000 (Merion/Presser)
  • El Coco (The Bogeyman) (3') for flute and guitar, 1999 (Merion/Presser)
  • Roaming (8') for 3 guitars, 1994 (Dobermann-Yppan)
  • The Cat that Walked by Himself (22') for 4 guitars, 1988 (Merion/Presser)
  • Mirage (6') for two guitars, 1987 (Merion/Presser)
  • Extremes (13') for flute, clarinet and guitar, 1987 (Doberman-Yppan)
  • Trittico (12'), for flute, cello and guitar, 1985 (Doberman-Yppan)
  • Nostalgia (5'), for violin/flute and guitar, 1985 (Merion/Presser)
  • Sonata (16') for violin and guitar, 1985 (Merion/Presser)
  • Three Moons (17') for cello and guitar, 1984 (Merion/Presser)
  • Dances in the Madhouse (12') for violin/flute and guitar, 1982 (Merion/Presser)
  • Ghosting (9') for two guitars, 2013 (Unpublished)

Chamber music

  • Twilight Streams (12') for cello and guitar, 2012 (Unpublished)
  • Das Wundebare Wesen (10') for baritone and cello, 2011 (Merion/Presser)
  • Bloom (9') for string quartet, 2005 (Merion/Presser)
  • A Timeless Procession (9') for baritone and string quartet, 2004 (Merion/Presser)
  • Of Darkness and Light (10') for tenor, violin, oboe and piano, 2002 (Unpublished)
  • Battlefield Requiem (15') for solo cello and percussion quartet, 1995 (Unpublished)
  • Ad majorem Dei gloriam (12') for brass quintet (2 Bb tpt., hn., trb., tb.), 1992 (Merion/Presser)
  • On Jazz Terrain (13') for flute, Bb clarinet, alto saxophone and piano, 1990 (Merion/Presser)
  • Candles in Mecca (23') for violin, cello and piano, 1988 (Unpublished)

Solo instrument

  • Labyrinths II (16') for solo piano, 2009 (Merion/Presser)
  • Vapors (9') for solo viola, 2008-9 (Unpublished)

Voice and piano

  • Confiding (30'), high voice (also available for medium), 1985-86 (Merion/Presser)
  • O Love is the Crooked Thing (15'), medium or low voice, 1980 (Merion/Presser)
  • To Sleep (9'), medium voice (also available for low), 1994 (Merion/Presser)
  • Fidelity (22'), tenor (or soprano) and baritone, 1996 (Merion/Presser)
  • Chance Awakenings (9'), soprano, 2003 (Unpublished)


  1. ^ David Leisner, Review of David Leisner's FAVORITES. American Record Guide. By Ken Keaton. Jan./Feb 2012. Retrieved 26 Jan. 2012


  • Dickenson, J. Andrew: Urban Guitar, September 2006
  • Lehman, Carol: "An Interview with David Leisner", Guitar Review, Summer 1994
  • Leisner, David: "Six Golden Rules for Conquering Performance Anxiety", American String Teacher, Spring 1995
  • Cooper, Colin: "Journey of Discovery", Classical Guitar, June 1997
  • Traviss, Guy: "David Leisner", Classical Guitar, February 2014
  • Hall, Macer: "David Leisner", Classical Guitar, February 2004
  • Leisner, David: "Why the 1928 Manuscript?" (Part 1 and 2), Classical Guitar, December 2003 and January 2004
  • Leisner, David: "The Trouble with New Music", Musical America, May 1989
  • Leisner, David: "The Most Distinguished American Compositions for Solo Guitar, Soundboard, Vol. 16, 1989
  • Leisner, David: "Three Perspectives on Henze's Drei Tentos", Soundboard, Vol 4, no. 2, May 1977 (also translated into Japanese and Italian, and published in Gendai, Vol. 7, 1977, and Il Fronimo, Vol. 21, 1977)
  • Holenko, John: "An Interview with David Leisner", Soundboard, Vol 18, 1991
  • Verdery, Benjamin: "An Interview with David Leisner", Soundboard, Vol. 33, 2007

External links[edit]