The world’s musicians mourn Jorja

The world’s musicians mourn Jorja


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2022

Tributes are being posted from all corners of the musical world for concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis who died suddenly this weekend.

Jorja, who was 70, was long-serving concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra and professor at the University of Indiana.

Here’s a sampling of responses:

Conductor Kenneth Woods: Devastated to hear the news of Jorja Fleezanis’s passing. She was my friend and colleague, my teacher and mentor. And a friend to our family, and a champion of Suzanne. Wise, funny, generous, tough (when called for), intense…. she was one of a kind. It was a lucky day when I met her and Michael (Steinberg – her husband and another much-missed friend and mentor).
Grateful for all the musical adventures, including your transformational summer at Colorado MahlerFest, and your unforgettable visit with Michael to Pendleton, where we both lost our Elgar Violin Concerto virginity. Love you, Jorja. You are already missed.

Pianist Lydia Artymiw: David and I are heartbroken and devastated to hear the tragic news about Jorja Fleezanis’ passing. This past May it was such a joy and privilege to perform the Brahms c minor Piano Quartet with Jorja, Jessica Meyer, and Tony Ross. Jorja played so beautifully. I can’t imagine that we won’t hear her again, but we will always cherish our personal and musical memories of her and Michael.

Conductor Manny Laureano: I can’t believe she’s gone.
This classy, funny, serious, knowledgeable, passionate, thoughtful former colleague is gone.
She changed the sound of the entire string section of the MO just by being herself and leading like the Greek tiger she was. I was privileged to know her and be her colleague. That smile and that laugh opened a window into her personality that was irresistible.
You left us too soon, honey.

Violinist Nina Fronjian: I’ll never forget the time I got to spend with Jorja Fleezanis at Britten Pears Arts. At a time in my life when I was feeling so incredibly insecure, getting the chance to briefly work with her meant everything. She took me seriously, terrified me yet empowered me, pushed me relentlessly then recognized my growth. Validated my efforts. Never had I felt so seen by someone for whom I had so much respect. She didn’t care “who I studied with” or “where I went to school.” She gave the best advice I’ve received in this crazy endeavor and inspired me to keep going. Thank you.

Conductor Geoffrey Larson: Heartbroken to learn of Jorja Fleezanis’ passing yesterday. Jorja had a profound influence on me during my time at IU, and served on my doctoral committee before her retirement. Her trademark no-nonsense feedback was invaluable, and the warmth of her support was unforgettable. She was a force in rehearsal, and though we all knew she spoke with the experience of a long and glass-ceiling-busting career as a concertmaster, there was never any ego behind any of her words, just immediate and effective musical solutions. Conductors sweated a bit more on the podium when she was present no matter who they were, but I loved working with Jorja and I heard the difference she made. Her comments and instructions adorn many margins of my scores, hastily scribbled in an attempt not to miss any of the wisdom she rapidly delivered.

Violinist Gaia Ramsdell: Heartbroken to learn of the passing of my beloved teacher Jorja Fleezanis. She completely changed my life, and reading through all the posts and messages I’m struck by just how many more musical lives she changed, just how many people and musicians who would truly not be who they are without her influence and guidance.
Our private studio at IU was always small because every single Jacobs student enrolled in orchestra was also also a student of Jorja’s. You couldn’t be in a musical room with her in it without learning from her, getting alternately inspired or lovingly pestered by her to do better– she noticed everything! It always made me laugh at the beginning of a school year to see her in orchestra rehearsal, poking her bow at some new student and whispering “you’re not watching here!” or “wrong part of the bow!” and the student’s totally bewildered expression as to who she was or what was happening. (Of course eventually it would be my turn and I’d be kicking myself with embarrassment that I could be dumb enough to let my attention slip in front of her, even for a second.)
I’ve never met anyone as committed to anything the way Jorja committed herself to music and to teaching musicians. She taught me the true meaning of commitment– that if you were going to bother to learn a piece, that meant learning to devote yourself to every single phrase, to every single beat, to every single marking and every single rest on that page. (“FEEL the rest”, she would say, “it’s not just empty space, there’s MUSIC going on here.”)
Jorja was adamant that music making did not exist in a vacuum– music was art, and art was everything, the very expression of life itself; she was always finding new ways to teach us that. Her studio dinners were unique. We’d first have an amazing home cooked meal, surrounded by her art and captivated by her stories. Then we were instructed to go into her book room (a beautifully kept one room library in her home that was full of books from floor to ceiling), pick out a book of poetry, and select a poem to bring back to the table. One by one we’d read our poem aloud to the group, and Jorja would gently correct us as naturally as if we were performing something in studio class. Emphasize this word, pause here, what is the weight of this particular phrase? What do you think the poet is expressing here? She was much more forgiving of our delivery than of our violin playing, but the lesson was clear. (And then afterwards we’d always play charades until we were all giddy and delirious with laughter. She wasn’t just fierce and dedicated and loving and wise, she was so funny! And she loved to laugh.)
I can’t believe she’s gone, and I am so grateful to have had her as my teacher at such a pivotal time of my life. To know her and be guided by her was to become a better person, to learn how to live, how to revere life and to empathize with humanity through music. Rest in peace beloved Jorja, I love you.

Conductor Edwin Outwater: Terribly sad to learn of the passing of Jorja Fleezanis. I spent so many summers with her at the Round Top Festival Institute, and she as much as anyone helped me grow as a young conductor. She was so supportive but always truthful about the role of a conductor and how we could actually do good on the podium. I loved her warmth, humor and absolute dedication to music and the young musicians she worked with. I also loved her playing – it was as deeply felt as any performer I have known. I was fortunate to perform the Berg Chamber concerto with her and Karl Paulnack one summer and her second movement was as ravishing as you could imagine. On the other hand, she was also completely down to earth – our last time together was at the Music Academy and I remember during a very busy week she joined me and some others for a ridiculous Jurassic Park sequel and we all had the best time. How totally wonderful she was. I’ll try my best to pass on all the good things she left with me.

Soprano Sylvia McNair: Beloved Jorja, please look back over your shoulder and see how much we are hurting. SO MUCH LOVE is being shared today because of you.


  • David Hyslop says:

    This is very sad news indeed. Jorja was the concertmaster during my tenure as CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1991- 2003 . She was, by far, the finest concertmaster of any of the Orchestras
    during my times as CEO. She , and her late husband, Michael Steinberg, were also a huge help in the Music Director search that led to the hiring of Osmo Vanska as Music Director of the Minnesota. Orchestra .

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Those are wonderful tributes. A splendidly equipped violinist, she had a confident physical presence on stage, and gave a dominating performance of the Benjamin Britten Violin Concerto with Wisconsin’s Peninsula Music Festival some years ago. She really had the bow arm for that challenging piece.

  • olivia nordstadt says:

    there is no such thing as the university of indiana – it is indiana university

  • Morgan says:

    A small nitpick: It is Indiana University, not the University of Indiana. Latin: Indianensis Universitas. Those Hoosiers are quite adamant on this point.

  • NE says:

    Indiana University, not University of Indiana.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I saw/heard Ms. Fleezanis play with the San Francisco Symphony numerous times in the 1980’s (Associate Concertmaster). I wasn’t the least surprised that she moved on to become Concertmaster at the Minnesota Orchestra. Her playing was incredibly musical.

  • Fiddlist says:

    People, can we get over anal Indiana word orders and focus on Jorja? One of the most remarkable violinist human beings I ever met, someone who clearly had a tremendously positive influence on tens of thousands of musicians.

    • Gary Sudder says:

      They are likely USians—buffoons focusing on nonsense like uni word orders. Please focus on Jorja and how she came from nothing to be a concertmaster in a major orchestra. Unlike the typical upper middle-upper class brethren in the US empire that inhabits classical music.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    As Barry writes above, Jorja was assistant concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony for many years, and was absolutely marvelous whenever she played a solo role.
    I’m a bit surprised that so little has been mentioned in the comments and reminiscences about her wonderful SFS days!