Biography

Receiving international acclaim for his “wide-ranging genius” (Culture Today), Alexander Frey’s unique career literally defines the word “virtuoso”. The immense breadth of his accomplishments and activities in so many musical genres has resulted in many unique-and, in many cases, historic-achievements, leading the The Prague Post to observe that “Alexander Frey has had an enormous impact on Europe’s music scene over the past 15 years. Frey has managed to successfully straddle the line between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ music (arguably a faulty demarcation). He is as at home with Mahler symphonies (which he can conduct from memory) as he is with Bernstein’s West Side Story”. His highly acclaimed performances as conductor, organist, pianist, harpsichordist and recording artist have taken him all over the globe with appearances in the music capitals of Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. In 2005, he became a Billboard Classical Music Chart@ Top 10 Artist as both conductor and pianist, and he performs every year with symphony orchestras and as soloist throughout the world. Frey is in great demand as one of the world’s most versatile conductors, and enjoys great success in the concert hall and opera house, and in the music of Hollywood and Broadway. Leonard Bernstein once referred to him as “a wonderful spirit”.

Alexander Frey was Principal Conductor of the Rome Philharmonic Orchestra from 1996-2002, and during that time was the only American music director of an Italian symphony orchestra. Frey was appointed conductor of the Bohemia Symphony Orchestra (a few years later, the name was changed to the Stern Chamber Orchestra) in Prague, Czech Republic from 2000-2006. From 2004-2008, he was also conductor of Prague’s Karlin Theater. From 1992-1996, he was Music Director of Germany’s most renowned theater, the Berliner Ensemble, founded by Bertolt Brecht, where he collaborated with the celebrated stage director Peter Zadek. Frey was the first American to hold a position at the Berliner Ensemble, as well as being the theater’s first non-German Music Director; his historic predecessors include the composers Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau. While there, Zadek and Frey’s artistic collaboration made theater history by producing several revolutionary and innovative productions. They adapted Vittorio De Sica’s film Miracle in Milan (Miracolo e Milano) for the stage using the actual entire dialogue script from the film. Frey devised the idea of restoring the entire original film score and performing it live throughout the play using exactly the same music cues as in the film, marking the first time this technique was ever used. He repeated this method for a subsequent production in Austria of a stage version of the film Arsenic and Old Lace. For Miracle in Milan, Frey and the production were nominated for a Berlin Theater Critics’ Prize. Frey also produced and directed the Berliner Ensemble’s A Paul Dessau Evening, a multimedia retrospective of the musical and dramatic works of the theater’s music director of the 1950s.

His many guest conducting appearances include performances on 5 continents with almost 50 orchestras, opera houses and festivals including engagements with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Arena di Verona, Rio de Janeiro Philharmonic, Athens State Symphony Orchestra, State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Gulbenkian Orchestra (Lisbon), Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra, Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari, Orquestra de Câmara de Cascais e Oeiras (Portugal), Philharmonia Orchestra of Berlin, Collegium Symphonium Veneto (Padua) and the Sibelius Symphony Orchestra, among many others. Alexander Frey has also been Music Director for major productions at the Edinburgh International Festival (where he was awarded the festival’s Critics’ Prize); Teatro La Fenice (Venice Festival); Theater an der Wien, Vienna (Wiener Festwochen); Holland Festival, the Fifth European Festival and the Copenhagen Opera Festival, among others. He also conducted Ensemble Europa (members of the Israel Philharmonic and Deutsche Oper orchestras) in sold-out concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Berlin commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps. In 2006, he conducted Prague’s official orchestral gala concert (with the Stern Chamber Orchestra) celebrating Mozart’s 250th birthday on the day of the composer’s birth. In 2010, he was the only American conductor invited to conduct an Italian orchestra (in the opera house in Campobasso, Italy) for the Festa della Repubblica, the Italian independence day on which all the major orchestras in Italy give concerts in honor of the occasion. In 2017, he made his Russian debut, conducting productions of Verdi’s La Traviata and Tchaikovksy’s Eugene Onegin in the Astrakhan State Opera and Ballet Theater.

In addition to his regular appearances as a conductor on major concert series, Frey is very frequently called upon to replace conductors who have canceled their engagements, often at the last minute, and is known for being able to completely learn entire concert programs virtually overnight and follow with performances of great depth.

As pianist, organist and harpsichordist, Alexander Frey has performed with many of the world’s great symphony orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Arena di Verona, Munich Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (ORF), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra), Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester, Italiana (Milan), the chamber orchestra of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (the opera house of Mexico City), Bohemia Symphony Orchestra (Prague), Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, Stern Chamber Orchestra (Prague) and the orchestra of the Teatro Regio di Torino (with whom he appeared as soloist in the 3 inaugural concerts opening Torino’s newly restored opera house), among others under such conductors as under such conductors as Claudio Abbado, John Mauceri, Michael Tilson Thomas and Howard Shore. Alexander Frey is a Steinway Artist.

Frey was the first organist ever to perform an entire symphony of Gustav Mahler as a solo work for organ. This historic achievement resulted in Mr. Frey’s live performance of the organ transcription Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #5 (transcribed by Jerry Kinsella) cited as one of seven performances listed as “the most important organ-related events of the 20th century” by The American Organist magazine.

A highly honored recording artist, Alexander Frey’s recording of Korngold’s Between Two Worlds was listed by Gramophone Magazine as one of the “250 Greatest Recordings of All Time”. In addition, he has received the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis (Germany’s highest recording honor), Choice of the French Media Critics, Best Recording of the Year (Fi Magazine), Best Original Cast Recording of the Year-2005 (Borders Music), Favorite Record of the Year-2005 (ArkivMusic), the Bronze World Medal of the New York Festival, BBC Critics Choice, Record of the Month (MusicWeb, UK), Best Instrumental CD of the Month (Galaxie Magazine, Canada) and Best CD of the Month (Best New Classics). Frey’s recordings can be found on the Koch International Classics, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, Bach Guild, RCA Red Seal and Pool labels.

Since the 1990’s, Frey has maintained a strong commitment to both new music and the film music of Hollywood which has been evident in the many world and regional premieres he is given. At the 2009 “Hollywood in Vienna Festival” held in Vienna, Austria, Frey gave the first public performance of John Williams’ music to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film Seven Years in Tibet when he played a piano transcription of the complete score to that movie. He also performed the world premieres of Max Steiner’s Wiener Lob and a large-scale piano transcription of David Arnold’s music for the film Independence Day in concert with Mr. Arnold in attendance. In Mexico, Frey conducted the Latin American premiere performances of both Bernard Herrmann’s music for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo and Franz Waxman’s music for the 1941 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He also gave the first public performance of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music for the 1944 film Between Two Worlds, as well as the European premiere of the Suite from Schindler’s List, composed and arranged by John Williams. In Barrie Gavin’s documentary film, Erich Wolfgang Korngold-Adventures of Wunderkind: A Portrait and Concert, Frey performs the first public hearing of Korngold’s second symphony, composed in Hollywood at the end of the composer’s life and exists only in piano score, in addition to playing several solo keyboard works and most of the background piano music.

He has conducted James Helme Sutcliffe’s Gymnopedie and Night Music (both world premieres), conducted and played the Italian and Egyptian premieres of Charles Kalman’s Hudson Concerto, conducted Naji Hakim’s Hymne de l’Univers (North American premiere) and the world premiere of Ada Gentile’s Adagio and Adagio Prima, Adagio Seconda. As pianist, Frey has given the world premieres of Leonard Bernstein’s Five Anniversaries, Thirteen Anniversaries and Valse Gaea, as well as the European and Asian premieres of that composer’s Sonata for the Piano (Frey’s performance in Berlin of the Sonata was the second time the work had ever been performed since Bernstein himself premiered it in 1938). He also gave the world premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Vier Walzer (Four Waltzes) and the American premiere of Walz an Luzi, and the world premieres of Kurt Weill’s Albumblatt (the composer’s only work for solo piano) and Franz Schubert’s then-unpublished Fugue in D minor for organ.

In January 2008, during an interview broadcast on Radio Cairo while conducting in Egypt, Frey stated that “Music is a peaceful island in a river of sadness.” Pulitzer Prize -winning author and historian Studs Terkel referred to him as “a Renaissance Man”. In a later interview in The Guardian celebrating his 95th birthday, Terkel discussed his own “diverse and idiosyncratic taste in music, from Bob Dylan to Alexander Frey, Louis Armstrong to Woodie Guthrie”. Frey has also been called “a raconteur, a young Oscar Levant” by American writer and Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, “his generation’s Noël Coward” (Culture Today), and that “he seems like a classic character from the golden age of the Broadway musical” (The Prague Post).

Alexander Frey studied piano in Chicago for 22 years with Gavin Williamson, one of the last direct links to 19th century pianism. He studied organ with Richard Webster and Edward Mondello, also in Chicago. He received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees (with honors) from the University of Michigan where he studied organ with Robert Glasgow, conducting with Gustav Meier and composition with William Albright and William Bolcom.