Youngstown Symphony Orchestra music director Randall Craig Fleischer, 61, died suddenly Wednesday night at his Los Angeles home.
“It was very sudden, very tragic”, Patricia Syak, president of the Youngstown Symphony Society, said. “We, like so many people, are in shock. He always seemed to be such a tough, taller-than-life guy. “
Syak said she spoke to Fleischer via Zoom earlier in the evening about the Youngstown Youth Symphony Orchestra, and he was found by his wife slumped on the ground later that night.
Fleischer was appointed Music Director of the Youngstown Symphony in 2006 and became Music Director to begin the 2007-08 season. He is also a conductor of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra (Alaska) and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic (New York).
“He brought new energies, new ideas”, Syak said. “His desire to present classical music, respecting classical music but at the same time presenting it in new and exciting ways. In many of these symphonic performances, he linked classical music to Native Americans, gospel, and rock.
“I think he brought awareness to our orchestra and the community like no other conductor I have ever worked with. His enthusiasm, his love and his drive, his passion for what he did was quite remarkable.
Todd Hancock, co-founder of Easy Street Productions, worked with Fleischer when the theater company collaborated with the orchestra on concert versions of “The guys and the dolls” and “South Pacific.”
“Randy was a true professional in every sense of the word,” Hancock said. “Our collaboration was a kind of dream collaboration. Randy and I have worked really well together. I think he had doubts about the first collaboration because he was literally out of town while we were setting up the show. He put a lot of faith and confidence in Easy Street, and after coming to town and taking his witness, he couldn’t wait to do the next one.
Fleischer was scheduled to host an online fundraising gala for the orchestra on Saturday and had previously recorded interviews with many celebrities he has worked with over the years, including Jodi Benson, best known as the voice of Ariel in the animated Disney classic. “The little Mermaid”; Dee Snider, singer of the band Twisted Sister; Mairead Nesbitt, one of the founding members of Celtic Woman; and Phil Keaggy, from Youngstown, a Dove Award winning Christian artist and member of the group Glass Harp.
Syak said the fundraiser will go as planned.
“We have to make some adjustments, but we are moving forward with the show in the tradition of the show must continue”, she said. “He was Randy’s baby from the start… We thought it was a fitting tribute to him if we could do these YSO interviews and performances and try to give him some kind of tribute.”
The orchestra has not been able to perform since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a return date for the orchestra’s return still unknown, filling Fleischer’s position is not an immediate concern, Syak said. But the orchestra board will meet soon to discuss whether to move forward with some of the programs Fleischer had already planned and to discuss a replacement.
“This is something we cannot avoid” Syak said. “Searching for a music director takes due diligence, and it takes time.”
Fleischer has performed as guest conductor with many major orchestras in the United States and abroad, including engagements with the Israel Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Symphony Orchestras, San Francisco, Utah, San Diego and Seattle, and the Chamber Orchestras of Saint Paul and Philadelphia. He was also co-creator of the show “Rocktopie”, who performed on Broadway in 2018.
In an interview last week to promote the gala, Fleischer told the newspaper the downtime due to the coronavirus shutdown was the longest he has spent without leading a program since 1989.
“There is a pain inside in a deeper way of not having the opportunity to make music”, said Fleischer.