David Leisner, Manhattan School of Music guitar department co-chair, is an extraordinarily versatile musician with a multifaceted career as a performing artist, a master teacher, and a distinguished composer. He is regarded as one of the World's leading classical guitarists, and his superb musicianship and provocative programming have been applauded by critics around the world. His career began auspiciously with top prizes in both the 1975 Toronto and 1981 Geneva international guitar competitions. In the 1980s, 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 his playing the guitar, Mr. Leisner gradually rehabilitated himself and recovered completely by 1996. Recent seasons have taken him around the United States, with a solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony; on a major tour of Australia and New Zealand; and to debuts and reappearances in Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and the U.K. An innovative three-concert series at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York included the city’s first all-Bach guitar recital. Mr. Leisner has performed chamber music at the Santa Fe, Vail Valley, Rockport, Cape and Islands, Bargemusic, Bay Chamber, El Paso and Angel Fire festivals, with Eugenia Zukerman, Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Shelton, Ida Kavafian, and many others. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, Mr. Leisner has premiered works by Richard Rodney Bennett, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, Ned Rorem, Peter Sculthorpe, Virgil Thomson. He was a pioneer in the rediscovery of Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806–1856)and Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773-1830).
A featured artist for Azica Records, Leisner has released six highly acclaimed solo CDs of music by Bach, Villa-Lobos, Mertz and Schubert, Contemporary composers, Matiegka and his own compositions. The Mel Bay Co. has released a solo concert DVD called Classics and Discoveries. Recent projects include a recording of the Hovhaness Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra (Naxos); a recording of the Haydn Quartet in D with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (Koch); and the Hovhaness Spirit of Trees with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (Telarc).
Leisner is also a highly respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. His composition, Dances in the Madhouse, in both its original version for violin and guitar and as an arrangement for orchestra, has received hundreds of performances. Recent commissioners include the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, Arc Duo, Stones River Chamber Players (Tennessee), Fairfield Orchestra (Connecticut), the Red Cedar Chamber Music (Iowa), and the Twentieth Century Unlimited Series (New Mexico). Recordings of his works are currently available on the Sony Classical, ABC, Acoustic Music, Athena, Barking Dog, Centaur, Dorian, Signum, and Town Hall labels. His compositions are published mostly by Merion Music/Theodore Presser, along with others by AMP/G, Schirmer, Doberman-Yppan, and Columbia Music.
Mr. Leisner taught at the New England Conservatory for 22 years. Although he is primarily self-taught both as a composer and as a guitarist, 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.