His family, impressed by their son’s precocious talent, moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he continued his studies under the guidance of two superlative teachers, Nise Obino and Lucia Branco. In 1957, after winning the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition with his performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto (Guiomar Novaes was on the jury), the President of Brazil presented him with a grant which allowed him to study with Bruno Seidlhofer, teacher of Friedrich Gulda, in Vienna. Seven years later, Freire won the Dinu Lipatti Medal in London, as well as first prize at the International Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.
His London début, at the age of 23, was praised by the press as a sensation, The Times calling him “The young lion of the keyboard”. The following year, Time Magazine hailed him as “One of the most exciting pianists of this or any age” after his performances with the New York Philharmonic. Since then, over the past half century, Freire has performed in more than seventy countries worldwide, working with the most prestigious orchestras and conductors including Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Gergiev, Jochum, Kempe, Maazel, Masur, Ozawa and Zinman.
Nelson Freire has been an exclusive Decca artist for over a decade. In October 2014 he celebrates his 70th birthday with the first release in a new Beethoven concerto cycle with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester (the ‘Emperor’ coupled with the Sonata Op 111), re-uniting the 2007 Gramophone Record of the Year award-winning team of the Brahms Concertos. Also released is the Chopin F minor concerto with the Gurzenich Orchestra Köln under the brilliant young French conductor Lionel Bringuier and a 2CD set called ‘Radio Days’: a special collection of concerto radio broadcasts from 1968-1979, including repertoire Freire has never recorded commercially, as well as his legendary Paris debut in Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto with Masur in 1969.
Freire remains a relatively rare visitor to the recording studio and concert platform but his artistry continues to be celebrated as much as ever: “Few pianists alive convey the sheer joy and exhilaration of being masters of their craft more vividly and uncomplicatedly than Nelson Freire. Perhaps only his old friend and regular duo partner Martha Argerich is Freire’s equal today as a player for whom dazzling technique is just a means to a musical end, never something to be flaunted for its own sake” (The Guardian, May 2014)