Alexander Frey

Alexander Frey is an American symphony orchestra conductor, virtuoso organist, pianist, harpsichordist and composer. Frey is in great demand as one of the world's most versatile conductors,[1] and enjoys great success in the concert hall and opera house, and in the music of Broadway and Hollywood.

Alexander Frey
Alexander Frey conducting
Background information
BornOctober 5, 1975
Chicago, Illinois,
United States
Occupation(s)Conductor, pianist, organist, harpsichordist, composer, recording artist.
LabelsKoch International Classics, eOne Music, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, RCA Red Seal, Bach Guild

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.

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."[2]

Frey has been described as "a witty, urbane figure whose wide-ranging genius and charisma shine both in his performances on the concert stage and in conversation offstage".[1] Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Studs Terkel referred to him as "a Renaissance Man".[3] 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".[4] Frey has also been called "a raconteur, a young Oscar Levant" by American writer and Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor,[5] "his generation's Noël Coward",[1] and that "he seems like a classic character from the golden age of the Broadway musical".[6]

In recent years, he has taken to playing his solo recitals with a lamp next to or on the piano providing the only stage light (and often the only lighting in the concert hall as well), and an oriental rug underneath the instrument to "create an intimacy between my audience and the music, as if everyone were in my living room listening together".[7]

A resident of Berlin, Germany, Frey has been frequently invited by the city's diplomatic community to perform for heads of state including President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama, and former German chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder, among others.[8]

Alexander Frey is an official Steinway Artist.[9]

Frey is of Greek and Swiss (Alsatian) descent with family currently residing in Greece, Mulhouse and Paris.


Alexander Frey was Principal Conductor of the Rome Philharmonic Orchestra from 1996 to 2004, and during that time was the only American music director of an Italian symphony orchestra. He was appointed conductor of the Bohemia Symphony Orchestra (later named the Stern Chamber Orchestra) in Prague, Czech Republic, a position he has held since 2000.

Frey's many guest conducting appearances include performances on five continents with the Rio de Janeiro Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Athens State Symphony Orchestra (Greece), Orchestra dell'Arena di Verona, Sibelius Symphony Orchestra, Rome Philharmonic Orchestra, Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra, Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México (State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra), and the Collegium Symphonium Veneto (Padua) 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 for the Festa della Repubblica, the Italian independence day on which all the major orchestras in Italy give concerts in honor of the occasion.

Frey has also been Music Director for major productions at the Edinburgh International Festival (where he was awarded the festival's Critics' Prize), the Wiener Festwochen (Theater an der Wien, Vienna), Venice Festival (Teatro La Fenice), Holland Festival, the Fifth European Festival, and the Copenhagen Opera Festival.

From 1992 to 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 who held the same music directorship included 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.

Piano/organ performances

As pianist and organist, Frey has performed with many symphony orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Munich Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (ORF), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra), Orchestra dell'Arena di Verona, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Rome Philharmonic Orchestra, 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), the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México (State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra), Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, the chamber orchestra of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (the chamber orchestra of the opera house of Mexico City), Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana, Monterrey (Mexico) Symphony Orchestra (UANL) and Berliner Bach Akademie among others, under such conductors as Claudio Abbado, John Mauceri, Michael Tilson Thomas and Howard Shore.

He frequently played recitals with the renowned Grammy Award-winning tenor, Jerry Hadley. Frey has performed chamber music with violinist Ruggiero Ricci and the Vermeer Quartet, among others. Ricci and Frey performed New York City's official concert commemorating the tricentennial anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, given in a sold-out Alice Tully Hall on the actual day of the composer's 300th birthday. He has performed duo concerts in Europe with American writer and A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. In 2001, Frey gave live performances for the BBC (with the renown soprano Marta Eggerth) when the two artists gave recitals together in American and Europe which included performances in London's Wigmore Hall and in New York at Alice Tully Hall. He also performed an all-Verdi program for RAI (Italy).

Alexander 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 Frey's live performance of the organ transcription Gustav Mahler's Symphony #5 (transcribed by Jerry Kinsella) being regarded as one of seven performances listed as "the most important organ-related events of the 20th century" by The American Organist magazine.

In Barrie Gavin's documentary film, Erich Wolfgang Korngold-Adventures of Wunderkind: A Portrait and Concert, Frey performs several solo keyboard works and the first public hearing of Korngold's second symphony, which exists only in a manuscript piano score. Most of the background piano music in the film is also taken from Frey's performances of the composer's music.

Recording awards

Alexander Frey has received the Deutscher 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). His recording of Korngold's Between Two Worlds (on the Decca label) was listed by Gramophone Magazine as one of the 250 Greatest Recordings of All Time. June 2005 marked the release of a new CD of Frey conducting the world premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan, which Frey restored from the composer's manuscripts, including almost an hour of music previously unheard. This historic recording features Broadway star Linda Eder in the role of Wendy, and Daniel Narducci singing the role of Captain Hook. The CD reached #8 on the Billboard Classical Music Chart®, becoming the third highest selling musical theater recording during the weeks following its release, making Frey a Billboard® Top 10 Artist as both conductor and pianist. It also became the best selling recording of Koch International Classics (now called Entertainment One), the record company which produced it. Frey's CD of the complete solo piano music of Leonard Bernstein (also on Koch International Classics) is considered to be the definitive performance of that music[10] His ongoing project is recording the complete piano works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Koch International Classics) and he is regarded as the leading interpreter of Korngold's keyboard music. in addition to his recorded repertoire for Koch International Classics (Entertainment One), Frey's recordings can also be found on the Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, RCA Red Seal and Bach Guild labels.

Contemporary music and the music of Hollywood

Since the 1990s, Frey has maintained a strong commitment to both contemporary 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 live 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 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 composers 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), Charles Kalman's Hudson Concerto, Naji Hakim's Hymne de l'Univers (North American premiere) and Ada Gentile's Adagio and Adagio Prima, Adagio Seconda. As pianist, Frey has given the world premieres of Leonard Bernstein's Five Anniversaries and Thirteen Anniversaries, as well as the European and Asian premieres of that composer's Sonata for the Piano. He gave the world premieres of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Vier Walzer (Four Waltzes), Kurt Weill's Albumblatt (the composer's only work for solo piano) and Franz Schubert's then-unpublished Fugue in D minor for organ.

Frey was Musical Advisor to the Hollywood in Vienna Festival from 2007-2013.

Radio biography

An hour-long radio program about Frey's life and work, hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, was made in 1997 in the United States.[11]


Frey studied piano for many years in Chicago as a protégé of the pianist, harpsichordist and teacher Gavin Williamson (1898–1989), a pupil of Arthur Schnabel, Wanda Landowska, and Ethel Leginska. His organ teachers in the Chicago area were Richard Webster and Edward Mondello. He received the Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees (both with honors) from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance where he studied organ with Robert Glasgow, conducting with Gustav Meier and composition with William Albright and William Bolcom.


  1. "Alexander Frey". Culture Today, February 2007
  2. Radio Cairo Interview, December 31, 2007. Cairo Egypt
  3. Studs Terkel's interview with Alexander Frey on the weekly nationally broadcast radio show, The Studs Terkel Program, 1997
  4. Gary Younge, "Let Me Tell You A Story". The Guardian, January 23, 2008.
  5. Garrison Keillor: GK's Travel Blog from American Media,
  6. Steffin Silvis, "An Assured Showbiz Hand". The Prague Post, March 1, 2006
  7. Alexander Frey concert commentary to audience, November 30, 2010, American Embassy, Vienna, Austria
  8. Boris Erdtmann,"Profil". Die Welt, May 1998
  9. Steinway Artists website.
  10. Best CD and DVD Guide, 2007 Edition
  11. "Between 1952 and 1997, his one-hour Studs Terkel Program aired on 98.7 WFMT Chicago, upon which he interviewed pianist-composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, symphony conductor Alexander Frey, civil-rights activist Martin Luther King, journalist Dorothy Parker, dramatist Tennessee Williams". 2008/Gossip.htm
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