Youngstown Symphony director dies at 61
Gala fundraiser show to go on as planned with tributes to Fleischer
Youngstown Symphony Orchestra Music Director Randall Craig Fleischer, 61, died unexpectedly late Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles.
“It was very sudden, very tragic,” Patricia Syak, president of the Youngstown Symphony Society, said. “We, like so many people, are reeling in shock. He always seemed like such a robust, bigger-than-life kind of guy.”
Syak said she had talked to Fleischer via Zoom earlier that evening about the Youngstown Symphony Youth Orchestra, and he was found by his wife collapsed on the floor later that night.
Fleischer was named music director designate of the Youngstown Symphony in 2006 and became music director to start the 2007-08 season. He also serves as conductor of the Anchorage (Alaska) Symphony Orchestra and the Hudson Valley (New York) Philharmonic.
“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 those symphonic shows, he connected classical music with Native American, gospel, rock.
“I think he brought that awareness to our orchestra and the community like no other conductor I’ve ever worked with. His enthusiasm, love and vibrancy, his passion for what he did was totally remarkable.”
Todd Hancock, co-founder of Easy Street Productions, worked with Fleischer when the theater company collaborated with the orchestra on concert versions of “Guys & Dolls” and “South Pacific.”
“Randy was a true professional in every sense of the word,” Hancock said. “Our collaboration was kind of a dream collaboration. Randy and myself worked together really well. I think he had doubts about the first collaboration because he was literally out of town while we were putting the show together. He put a lot of faith and trust in Easy Street, and after he came into town and picked up his baton, he couldn’t wait to do the next one.”
Fleischer was scheduled to host an online gala fundraiser for the orchestra Saturday and already had recorded interviews with many of the celebrities he 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, lead singer of the band Twisted Sister; Mairead Nesbitt, one of the founding members of Celtic Woman; and Youngstown native Phil Keaggy, a Dove Award-winning Christian artist and a member of the band Glass Harp.
Syak said the fundrasier will go on as scheduled.
“We need to make some adjustments, but we are going ahead with the show in the tradition of the show must go on,” she said. “It was Randy’s baby from the beginning … We thought it was a fitting tribute to him if we could proceed with those interviews and YSO performances and try to tie in some kind of tribute to him.”
The orchestra hasn’t been able to perform since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a return date for the orchestra’s return still unknown, filling Fleischer’s position isn’t an immediate concern, Syak said. But the orchestra board will meet soon to discuss whether to go forward with some of the programs Fleischer already had planned and to discuss a replacement.
“It’s something we can’t avoid,” Syak said. “A music director search does take due diligence, and it does take time.”
Fleischer 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, the symphony orchestras of Cleveland, San Francisco, Utah, San Diego and Seattle, and the Chamber Orchestras of St. Paul and Philadelphia. He also was co-creator of the show “Rocktopia,” which played on Broadway in 2018.
In an interview last week to promote the gala, Fleischer told the newspaper the down time because of the coronavirus shutdown was the longest he’d gone without conducting a program since 1989.
“There is an aching inside in a most profound way not having the opportunity to make music,” Fleischer said.