December 2021 | Tribute to Nelson FreireDecember 2021 | Tribute to Nelson Freire
By CLELIA IRUZUN
The great Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire passed away on the 1st November. It is an enormous loss for the classical music world. He was undoubtedly one of the most gifted musicians I have ever met. His stunning technical ability was always used to express the beauty from the compositions he played. He lived for music and never put himself above the works he performed despite having a strong personality and a unique style. This humility in an artist of such greatness was an example and inspiration to the musicians that surrounded him. His concerts were known to always have famous pianists in the audience and to quote a known phrase “he was a pianist’s pianist”.
He was a real prodigy and startled all his teachers during his childhood until he won a scholarship from the Brazilian president at 14 to go to Vienna. His quick rise from a prodigy to a consummate artist gave him many opportunities early in his career such as the legendary recording of the concertos by Schumann, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and the Totentanz by Liszt with conductor Rudolf Kempe and the Munich Philharmonic when he was only 25. These remain to this day reference recordings of these concertos.
His career took him to every corner of the planet and wherever he went he conquered the public with the beauty of his sound, the finesse of his technique and natural interpretation. Everything seemed easy! He didn’t like recording and was much happier playing live concerts. Despite his preference for live performance, he managed to record a good deal of repertoire and leave us an amazing legacy. There are also a lot of live recordings coming to light on Youtube recently and it is always a joy to listen to him. It also shows the ecstatic reaction of the public to the magic of his playing.
I was privileged to know him for many years and to learn a great deal from his guidance throughout my life. I first met him at 13 when I played for him at his house in Rio. He was extremely kind and gave me amazing advice. Since then he listened to me regularly and guided me in choice of repertoire and eventually recommended me to study in Europe. I really remember him at concerts and dinners. He loved being surrounded by his friends savouring a good meal and laughing at jokes. Good memories. He was a dear friend, a mentor and a hero to me. He will be sorely missed.
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