Nelson Freire is among the most admired pianists of his generation, having played with the leading orchestras and conductors in the most prestigious recital halls, and in collaboration with the finest violinists, cellists, and fellow pianists. He has also recorded extensively in a wide range of repertory for numerous major labels, including Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, Philips, and Decca.
Freire was born in Boa Esperança, Brazil, on October 8, 1944. He was amazingly precocious, taking his first piano lessons from his older sister at age 3 and giving his first public recital, where he played Mozart's A major Sonata, K. 331, at 5. Among his earliest important piano teachers were Nise Obino and Lucia Branco.
At the age of 12, he won the prestigious Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition (1957). There he performed, among other challenging pieces, the Beethoven Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor"), before a jury consisting of Lili Kraus, Marguerite Long, Guiomar Novaes, and other prominent pianists. He continued piano studies with Bruno Seidlhofer in Vienna under scholarship funds earned with his competition victory. In 1959 he launched his international career, touring Europe, South America, and the Far East, appearing with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors.
Apparently not satisfied with his credentials, Freire entered the Lisbon-based Vianna da Motta International Piano Competition in 1964 and took first prize. His London debut took place in 1968 and his American debut in 1970, when he played Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto, with the New York Philharmonic under Rudolf Kempe, a conductor with whom he made several successful tours, but typically with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
By the 1970s, Freire was a successful recording artist who would draw particular critical acclaim for his Chopin. Soon he turned to piano duo repertory, often appearing and recording with Martha Argerich. The team's first recording, Rachmaninov's Suite No. 2, Op. 17, and Lutoslawski's Variations on a Theme of Paganini, was released on Philips in 1982. Subsequent recordings of works by Bartók, Ravel, and others appeared over the next two decades. Freire has also collaborated with violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Mischa Maisky. Freire has remained active in the new century both as a soloist and duo player. In 2005 he scored critical successes in London at the BBC Proms, in Tokyo, and later on tour with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester. Later releases included Chopin Adagios (2008), a Debussy disc (2009), and Harmonies du Soir, featuring an all-Liszt program.