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Groundbreaking violinist and Interlochen faculty member Jorja Fleezanis dies at 70

Violinist Jorja Fleezanis and music critic Michael Steinberg
Andrew Wallmeyer
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White Pine Festival
Violinist Jorja Fleezanis and her husband, music critic Michael Steinberg

Fleezanis was only the second woman ever to serve as concertmaster of an American orchestra.

Violinist and Interlochen Arts Academy faculty member Jorja Fleezanis has died.

When Fleezanis became the concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1989, she was only the second woman ever to hold that role in an American orchestra.

She served as the concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra for two decades, making her the longest-tenured concertmaster in the orchestra's history.

The Minnesota Orchestra noted her death Monday on Twitter.

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

In 2021, Fleezanis was named Visiting Faculty for Creative Orchestral Studies at the Interlochen Arts Academy, a role she still held at the time of her death.

"I've worked with many brilliant artists, but none so genuinely focused on making the next generation better, less afraid and more fully human," said Jason Hallowbard, Vice Provost for Academic and Artistic Education at Interlochen Center for the Arts. "I was just speaking with her last week about plans for the fall, and her energy and joy were as infectious as ever."

Fleezanis was no stranger to Interlochen prior to this recent appointment.

She attended Interlochen's National Music Camp and Arts Academy in the 1960s.

She also served as a Valade Concertmaster at Interlochen Arts Camp several times in the last two decades.

Jorja Fleezanis boards a bus holding her violin
Interlochen Arts Academy
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Jorja Fleezanis and her violin board a bus bound from Interlochen Arts Academy to Grand Rapids during the 1967-68 school year

Many composers composed pieces of music specifically for Fleezanis.

John Adams and John Tavener both composed violin concertos for her, and Stefan Wolpe wrote a violin sonata. The Schubert Club also commissioned the chamber piece "Brilliant Sky, Infinite Sky" for Fleezanis.

Fleezanis was married to music critic Michael Steinberg, who died in 2009.

She established the Michael Steinberg and Jorja Fleezanis Fund in his memory to award an annual commission to an emerging composer who combines music and text.

Fleezanis died Saturday, Sept. 10. She was 70 years old.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.