At 26, pianist David Fray makes his New York debut on Lincoln Center's Great Performers series with the Orchestre National de France under Kurt Masur. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Masur (who led the New York Philharmonic from 1999-2002) and a momentous occasion for Fray, who has never been to New York.
He brings international acclaim to his April 30 performance at Avery Fisher Hall along with performance experience in Europe, Asia and America with major orchestras under the baton of such iconic conductors as Eschenbach, Muti, and Masur. Occupying a place of prominence among the top tier of emerging young pianists, Fray has the right stuff for an important career: poetry and passion, showmanship, innovation, and the humility to put himself at the service of the music.
Fray's debut CD for Virgin Classics proved his early artistry by boldly pairing Bach and Boulez, showing similarities in their approach to keyboard music. It wasn't just his unflagging lilt, precision, and inspired nuance that drew attention. Critics deemed his glittering, articulate style new, even revolutionary, noting a relaxed confidence that polished off French flourishes, decorations, repeats, and all with "nimble" technique and "relentless fire."
The objective of the project, says Fray, was to pull away from the schools of interpretation. "I wanted to break the barrier. If you listen to the Bach Partita in D major and then Boulez's Notations, there is some mysterious link between them. It was, for some people, quite a provocation‹Bach and Boulez, it's very extreme in the history of music. But for me, the extremes sometimes join themselves, and I think that Boulez is closer to Bach than to Rachmaninoff."
Born in France, he does not consider himself a French pianist. "I don't play French music, with the exception of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G. I am a living melting pot," he says of his Czech, Polish, Spanish, French, Jewish, and Finnish roots. His parents doted on Germanic culture, and Fray got the German repertoire in his ears from a young age. By the time he graduated with honors from the Paris Conservatoire, his artistic direction was set. "If, over my life, I can play all the works of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Brahms and Schumann, then I shall be very happy," he said in a BBC Music magazine interview.
Fray explored chamber music with Christian Ivaldi and Claire D_sert, and worked closely with Dimitri Bashkirov, Paul Badura-Skoda, Menahem Pressler, and Christoph Eschenbach. From Eschenbach, he learned about time. "Music is the art of time, and interpretation can completely change just because you take a little bit more time at one moment. That suspension of a voice is very interesting. It's linked to breath, sensibility and connection, because interpretation for me is not only active, it is also receiving something the public and the audience are giving you." Changing interpretations, he reflects, are like the sky. "It's a question of light. It's always the same, but it's never the same. It depends, too, on the conductor next to you, the orchestra, and your mood."
Musicians, he says, must be "considerate of themselves. The problem today is everything is going very fast, and I don't think that's a very good thing for music. If you travel too much and you are always in the hotels and giving autographs, that's good, but you also need some very quiet moments to think in a different way. If you are always playing concerts and touring, you have a very short-term reflection."
Fray has a landmark year in 2008: his New York debut; a DVD by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon about the Bach Concerti project for Id_ale Audience; and, happily, in July, his marriage to an Italian actress.
With certain perspectives in common, Fray and the Orchestre National de France also seem made for each other. Since its founding in 1923, the French orchestra has premiered new works by Dutilleux, Messiaen, Boulez, Varse and others. Kurt Masur took the reins as music director in 2002 after 11 years at the New York Philharmonic.
For his debut on April 30 in Avery Fisher Hall, Fray performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, emphasizing "the singing line and the characterization of music. The music has to speak. For me, that's the only thing." The program also includes Dvo ršk's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World").
The following evening in Avery Fisher Hall (May 1), the Orchestre and Masur will be joined by renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Beethoven's Romance in F major and Romance in G major. The program also includes works by Tchaikovsky and Dutilleux.
Barbara Sealock writes about classical music and the arts.