“This is immensely distinguished Liszt-playing . . . Freire seems utterly at one with the music, not only in terms of its innate poetry but also its astonishing diversity of texture and touch . . . But the special quality of Freire’s playing is really that he seems to put you directly in contact with Liszt himself . . .”
BBC Music Magazine (London), July 2011 [review of Liszt: Harmonies du Soir]
Born in Boa Esperança, Brazil, Nelson Freire began piano lessons at the age of three with Nise Obino and Lucia Branco, who had worked with a pupil of Liszt. He made his first public appearance at the age of five playing Mozart’s Sonata K. 331. In 1957, after winning a grant at the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition with Beethoven’s “Emperor”Concerto, he went to Vienna to study with Bruno Seidlhofer, teacher of Friedrich Gulda. Seven years later he won the Dinu Lipatti Medal in London and first prize at the International Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.
Since his international career began in 1959, Freire has appeared at virtually every important musical centre, in recital and collaborating with such distinguished conductors as Jirí Belohlávek, Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Myung-Whun Chung, Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, Iván Fischer, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Eugen Jochum, Fabio Luisi, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Ingo Metzmacher, Kent Nagano, Václav Neumann, Seiji Ozawa, David Robertson, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Yuri Temirkanov, Michael Tilson Thomas, Hugh Wolff, David Zinman and orchestras including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, Oslo Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Mariinsky, Tonhalle of Zurich, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Vienna Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony, BBC Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, São Paulo Symphony and Seoul Philharmonic, as well as the leading North American orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington. With Martha Argerich, he toured Japan in 2003, Brazil and Argentina in 2004 and the USA and Canada in 2005.
Freire has an extensive discography and was included by Philips in its historic series Great Pianists of the 20th Century, released in 1999. He has been an exclusive Decca artist since 2001, thus far recording Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Debussy, as well as the two Brahms Concertos with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly, which was hailed by Gramophone as “the Brahms piano concerto set we’ve been waiting for” and has earned international prizes including the 2007 Classic FM Gramophone Award as “Record of the Year” and “Winner of the Concerto Category”, Diapason d’or, Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros and Choc du Monde de la musique as well as a Grammy® nomination. The Chopin bicentenary year of 2010 saw two new releases by Freire: his recording of the complete Nocturnes and a recital album containing the Second Sonata, Op. 10 Etudes and Barcarolle. In the Liszt bicentenary year of 2011 Decca released his recital album Harmonies du Soir. His new album Brasileiro is planned for release in summer 2012.
In March 2007, Nelson Freire was appointed a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and in January 2011 he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion de’Honneur, the French government’s highest award to a foreigner.