YSO Music Director Fleischer Dies at Age 61

YOUNGSTOWN – Randall Craig Fleischer, the music director and conductor of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, died suddenly Wednesday, leaving the arts community shocked and saddened.

The California resident was 61.

Patricia Syak, president of the Youngstown Symphony Society, was shaken by the news.

“It was so sudden,” Syak said Thursday evening. “He was a robust individual. I had a Zoom meeting just last evening at around 7. He was talking to members of our youth orchestra about doing a virtual show. He had all kinds of positive ideas.”

Syak learned of Fleischer’s death Thursday morning when his wife, Heidi, called her and said that she and their daughter found him this morning, unresponsive.

“We did not know of any health issue he might have had,” Syak said. “He was always go go go, passionate and energetic.”

Fleischer had put together a virtual gala concert and show that he was to narrate live Saturday evening on the orchestra’s website. Syak said the show will go on as planned, but with no host.

“We will go forward with the virtual show,” she said. “It is something Randall would have wanted us to do. It was his baby from the beginning and he was so enthusiastic about it.”

Fleischer created a series of videos in which he interviewed past celebrity guests who performed with the YSO, as well short performances by members of the orchestra. Fleischer was to introduce each segment live. The show, which begins at 7 p.m., also included an online auction of unique items at Auctria.com.

“We will make the show a special tribute to Randall,” Syak said.

Fleischer was hired in 2006 after a lengthy nationwide search, and took over the reins of the YSO for the 2007-08 season. He was immediately hailed for his creative approach and is credited with bringing heightened enthusiasm for the YSO.

“He took regular classical music and presented it in new and exciting ways,” Syak said. “His fusions of classical with rock, gospel, step dancing, and Native American chanting was all new to our audience.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the final two concerts of the 2019-20 season, and the 2020-21 season, which normally starts in September, remains on hold because of state orders that prohibit gatherings.

When the YSO is again allowed to perform, Syak said it will be with guest conductors that will be hired for each concert.

The symphony board of directors will begin a nationwide search for a new conductor in the coming months. “It is a time consuming process,” Syak said. “It takes at least a year.”

Syak said Fleischer had “a vibrancy seldom witnessed in other conductors. His generosity, kindness and devotion to the community were unparalleled.”

The YSO grew in stature during his tenure, she said, and expanded its reach in the Mahoning Valley through in-school performances, the Stained Glass concert series in local churches and houses of worship and other programs.

Don Yallech a percussionist and drummer who frequently plays in the YSO, said Fleischer “brought something to the table that Youngstown never had. He was world class.”

Yallech was shocked to hear of the conductor’s passing today.

“[Fleischer] was at the peak of his career,” he said. Yallech is not a member of the YSO but is frequently hired to play with it. He estimates he played in about 90% of all YSO performances since Fleischer was hired, and also with the conductor’s Rocktopia show, a rock-classical fusion that played on Broadway and also completed a U.S. tour.

As the music director of the Easy Street Productions band, Yallech worked closely with Fleischer in recent years as the two entities collaborated on the musicals “Guys and Dolls” and “South Pacific.”

“Fleischer was a great conductor,” Yallech said. “He took chances, he was creative, and interested in working with school children. He had a love of rock music and seemingly endless energy. It’s hard to keep a symphony alive today and he had great ideas toward doing that.”

Todd Hancock, co-director of Easy Street Productions, also worked closely with Fleischer.

“He would leave meetings on our collaborations and go straight to the gym,” Hancock recalled. “He was all over the place. I was helping him cut a commercial two days ago.”

Paul S. Homack Jr., chairman of the Youngstown Symphony Society board of directors, said, “Randy’s love of our symphony and his dedication to our orchestra inspired us to be the best we can be, and it provided us with music that fed our souls, made our community more beautiful and enriched each of us.”

Homack said Fleischer’s death “is a great loss for the Youngstown Symphony Society, for our community and the musical world.”

In addition to serving as the music director and conductor of the YSO, Fleischer also held those positions with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and Hudson Valley Philharmonic.

He appeared as a guest conductor with many major orchestras in the United States and internationally, including engagements with the Israel Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Cleveland, San Francisco, Utah, San Diego and Seattle and the Chamber Orchestras of St. Paul and Philadelphia.

Fleischer made his debuts with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cesky Krumlov International Music Festival in August 2008, Boston Pops in December 2008 and the Beijing Philharmonic in 2010.

He conducted the National Symphony Orchestra during his first of five years as assistant and then associate conductor of the orchestra during its tour of Japan and the U.S.S.R with Mstislav Rostropovich as guest soloist.

Fleischer was subsequently featured in the internationally broadcast PBS documentary “Soldier of Music” and 60 Minutes’ segment saluting Rostropovich’s return to his native Russia following his forced exile in 1972

Fleischer was known for symphonic rock and world music fusion compositions including Triumph, Echoes, Symphony in Step, Spiritual Journey and Rocktopia all of which had been performed by the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra with Fleischer on the podium.

In 2015, Fleischer was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree from Youngstown State University.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.