Honoring the Life of Trailblazing Violinist Jorja Fleezanis

Jorja Fleezanis

The University of Minnesota School of Music joins the wider Twin Cities music community in mourning the loss of beloved violinist Jorja Fleezanis. In addition to serving on the School of Music faculty, Fleezanis was Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra for 20 years. She was one of the first female concertmasters of a major symphony orchestra in the United States. We are honored to have been a part of her inspiring career in the Twin Cities, and the impact her legacy will have on generations to come. 

Fleezanis joined the School of Music faculty in 1990, mentoring many violin students who would continue on to have international success in their music careers. Violinist David Delgado Moran, a former student and member of Staatskapelle Berlin, remembers her fondly. “Jorja Fleezanis was this kind of holistic musician who never played just the score. She managed to convey moods and history, colors and verses, health and sickness. I immediately decided I had to learn all I could from this incredible woman. It worked out, some three years later, at the U of M and I felt privileged and very happy. We worked very hard together, with many more laughs than tears.” 

Faculty members held high respect for Fleezanis, an incredibly talented colleague and a bright presence in the School of Music halls. “When I was first asked to consider a position at the University of Minnesota, the fact that Jorja Fleezanis worked here was one of the main things that convinced me to make the move from Louisiana.” Sally O’Reilly, current School of Music violin professor reflected. “I’ll always remember Jorja for her truly radiant personality and a wonderful sense of humor. She will be deeply missed by so many former students, faculty and colleagues.” 

Lydia Artymiw, Professor Emerita, remembers Fleezanis as a dear friend and collaborator. Artymiw describes Fleezanis as “warm, sunny, frank, energetic, full of love and passion that shone through in her playing.” One of her fondest memories comes from a time when cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed with the Minnesota Orchestra. “Yo-Yo suggested that Jorja and I join him to read through piano trios of Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak at my house. Earlier that day, Yo-Yo ordered a huge catered dinner, and after dinner we had a wonderful time playing together until around 3 AM, a unique and joyous evening!” 

After the passing of her husband, Michael, in 2009, Fleezanis established the Michael Steinberg and Jorja Fleezanis Trust, which has commissioned new chamber works every year, continuing the impact of her legacy. Also in 2009, Fleezanis began a new teaching position as the Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington. She left Indiana in 2021 and resided in Michigan where she was Visiting Professor of Orchestral Studies at Interlochen Arts Academy.

Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg were renowned throughout the musical world and treasured members of the Twin Cities musical and artistic community. We mourn the loss of both Jorja and Michael and will cherish our memories of them forever. 

Thank you to Lydia Artymiw, Sally O’Reilly, and David Delgado Moran for their contributions to this article. 

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