Born in Brazil, Nelson Freire began piano studies at the age of three with Nise Obino and Lucia Branco, who has worked with a pupil of Liszt. He made his first public appearance at the age of five with Mozart Sonata in A K.331. In 1957, after winning a grant at the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition with his performance of 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 the first prize at the International Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.
His international career begins in 1959: Europe, USA, Central and South America, Japan and Israel.
He has collaborated with distinguished conductors such as Pierre BOULEZ, Lionel BRINGUIER, Riccardo CHAILLY, Myung-Whun CHUNG, Charles DUTOIT, Rafael FRÜHBECK de BURGOS, Valery GERGIEV, Eugene JOCHUM, Fabio LUISI, Lorin MAAZEL, Kurt MASUR, Ingo METZMACHER, Rudolf KEMPE (tours in the United States and Germany with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), Vaclav NEUMANN, Seiji OZAWA, André PREVIN, Tugan SOKHIEV, Yuri TEMIRKANOV, Ilan VOLKOV…
He is invited by prestigious orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, Bayerische Rundfunk, Deutsches Symphony Orchester, Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Danish Radio Symphony, Mariinsky Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, Vienna Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, London Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Toulouse, Radio France Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, as well as American Orchestras of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia… With Martha Argerich, he toured Japan, Brazil, Argentina and USA.
Nelson Freire has recorded for Sony/CBS, Teldec, DGG, IPAM, and London labels. Philips released his most coveted performances on their acclaimed series, Great Pianists of the 20th Century and his recording of Chopin’s 24 Préludes on CBS received the “Prix Edison”. As an exclusive DECCA Artists: Chopin, Schumann and Brahms Concertos 1 and 2 with the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly, Beethoven Sonatas, Debussy, Preludes, Chopin Nocturnes, Liszt solo pieces and “Brazileiro” with Brazilian composers and Live from Salzburg with Martha Argerich (DGG). For his recordings he received numerous prices : Diapason d’Or of the Year, Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros, Choc du Monde de la Musique, 10 by Repertoire, Classica, Grammy Awards, Chopin with the Gïrzenich Orchester Cologne and Lionel Bringuier. The portrait “Nelson FREIRE” is available on Video Film (Brazil).
Nelson Freire was nominated “Soloist of the Year 2002” by French Victoires de la Musique and received in January 2005 a special “Honours Award” for his career. His Chopin recording is nominated by Grammy Awards 2006. His Brahms Concertos with Riccardo Chailly are nominated by Grammy Awards 2007 and announced “Record of the Years” and “Winner of the Concerto Category” by Classic FM Gramophone Awards 2007. Chopin’s Nocturnes is nominated in the category “Instrumental Solo“ by Grammy Awards 2010 and his CD “Brasileiro” Villa-Lobos & Friends received the Grammy Awards 2013 as the best classical recording for South America.
His Bach recital recording won the prestigious Echo Prize as the best solo recording of the year 2016.
Nelson Freire's latest release, "Encores", celebrates his 75th birthday, featuring works of Scarlatti, Grieg, Rachmaninov, Paderewski, Shostakovich, Albeniz (2019).
He was appointed Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.