Longest-serving Minnesota Orchestra concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis dies at 70

Jorja Fleezanis
Jorja Fleezanis
Indiana University

By Jeffrey Yelverton with YourClassical

Jorja Fleezanis, Minnesota Orchestra’s longest-serving concertmaster and the second woman to serve as concertmaster in a major U.S. orchestra at the time of her appointment in 1989, has died in her home in northern Michigan at 70.

Fleezanis, a violinist, was devoted to music. A graduate of the Cleveland Insitute of Music and Cincinnati Conservatory, Fleezanis performed with the Chicago Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony as associate concertmaster before joining the Minnesota Orchestra.

Edo de Waart was the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra when Fleezanis joined in 1989. At the news of her passing, Waart stated, “Jorja Fleezanis was a force of nature. She and I first met in an audition at the San Francisco Symphony, where she played Sibelius. I was immediately inspired by the way she played. It was marvelous and so I offered her the position. When I became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, I invited her to serve as concertmaster.

“Jorja put more into her music than anyone I ever worked with,” he said. “She had a tremendous instinct for how things should be played. In my experience, that is a rare talent—as was her ability to be absolutely charming and frank at the same time. She called things exactly as she saw them. Jorja was a great friend, and her passing is a tremendous loss to me and the world of classical music.”

Minnesota Orchestra conductor laureate Osmo Vänskä, who Fleezanis spent her final years at the orchestra performing with, said, “Jorja was a wonderful musician, and she had so much passion and love for music. She was always open-minded when speaking about life, food and wine, new ideas and, of course, music. I look back on my years working with her with great fondness and appreciation.”

Osmo Vanska and Jorja Fleezanis
Minneosta Orchestra concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis, right, with conductor Osmo Vanska in 2009.
Photo: Greg Helgeson

During her tenure at the Minnesota Orchestra, Fleezanis had two pieces commissioned for her by the orchestra. The first was the John Adams Violin Concerto, which she debuted in 1994 with Edo de Waart conducting, and the second was Ikon of Eros, composed by John Tavener. Recorded in the Cathedral of St. Paul for the centennial of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003, the work is a magnificent expression of conflicting forces. The Divine Spirit, voiced by the orchestra, and the Divine Eros, played by Fleezanis on violin, represent a transcendence that unites us all. Here is the third movement from that performance.

Following her departure from the Minnesota Orchestra in 2009, she joined the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music faculty.