A native of Los Angeles, Lesser was a top prize winner in the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and a participant in the historic Heifetz-Piatigorsky concerts and recordings. Mr. Lesser has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New Japan Philharmonic, the Tokyo Philharmonic and other major orchestras. His New York debut was greeted as “triumphant” and “magical.” Of his performance of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variation in Hamburg, Die Welt stated, “The piece could not have been more thoroughly realized than this staggering performance.”
As a chamber musician he has participated at the Casals, Marlboro, Spoleto, Ravinia, Music@Menlo and Santa Fe festivals as well as at the Orford Festival and the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. He is a frequent visitor to Korea, most recently for performances of the Beethoven cycle. He has also been a member of juries for international competitions, including chairing the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1994. Others where he has judged include the Paulo Competition in Helsinki, the Feuermann Competition in Berlin, the Leipzig Bach Cello Competition, the Navarra Competition in France, the Naumberg Competition in New York and the Cassado Competition in Japan.
During the Bach anniversary year of 2000, Lesser performed the cycle of the complete cello suites several times, including joint presentations of the complete violin solo music with his wife, Masuko Ushioda. Eric Siblin, Author of the recent best-seller, “The Cello Suites,” credits Lesser’s Performances that year as the inspiration for writing his book. During the same season, Lesser gave the first Japanese performance of Tan Dun’s “Elegy” at Seiji Ozawa’s Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto.
A 1961 graduate of Harvard College, where he studied mathematics, Lesser went to Köln, Germany the following year to work with Gaspar Cassado under the aegis of a Fulbright Grant. During his Fulbright year he played for Pablo Casals, who declared , “Thank God who has given you such a great talent!“ He won first prize in the Cassado Competition in Siena, Italy later that season.
When he returend to Los Angeles, he studied with Gregor Piatigorsky and soon became his teaching assistant and regular faculty member at the University of Southern California. During the remainder of the 60’s he was a frequent contributor to the artisitc life of Los Angeles as a performer. His 1965 performance of the Schoenberg Cello Concerto to inaugerate the Bing Auditorium at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was its first hearing with orchestra after Emanuel Feuermann introduced the work in the late 1930’s. He recorded it the following year for Columbia Masterworks. He Left Los Angeles in 1970 to become Professor of Cello at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute.
Lesser was Invited in 1974 by Gunther Schuller, the then President of New England Conservatory, to head NEC’s cello department. In 1983 he was named the school’s President, as position from which he retired in 1996 to return to performing and teaching. A high point of his tenure as President was the complete restoration of the 1000-seat Jordan Hall, one of the world’s greatest acoustical spaces. Teaching has always been an important part of his artisitic activity. His former students, numbering in the hundreds, are soloists, orchestra section leaders and memebrs, chamber muscians and teachers, active throughout the USA and in many other countries around the world.
In September , 2005 Lesser was named "Chevalier du Violoncelle“ by the Eva Janzer Memorial Cello Center at Indianna University.
In 2010, Bridge records issued Lesser's recording with pianist HaeSun Paik of Beethoven's complete music for cello and piano. The comprehensive documentation embraced by this three-disc collection includes two audio CDs as well as the DVD Behind the Beethoven Project with biographical material, a discussion of this repertoire, and clips from concerts held in Korea immediately following the recording sessions in NEC's Jordan Hall.
Lesser plays a 1622 cello made by the brothers Amati in Cremona, Italy. Hi recordings have appeared on the RCA, Columbia, Melodiya, CRI and Bridge labels.