Arranged affair with the piano

David Fray's nimble finger work has won him fans around the world.
David Fray's nimble finger work has won him fans around the world.PHOTO: ERATO WARNER MUSIC

Pianist David Fray did not like the musical instrument at first, but was made to learn to play it because there was one at home

Celebrated pianist David Fray was made to sit before a keyboard when he was only four years old, but he will not force his five-year-old daughter to do the same.

Ahead of his concert here tomorrow with the Dresden Philharmonic, the 35-year-old French musician says he is fine with the fact that his child prefers the flute.

In a telephone call from Paris, where he is based, he says: "She doesn't show special will to play the piano right now. Maybe she will take flute lessons."

He did not like the piano at first either. His parents - both educators - decided their two sons would play the piano simply because there was one at home.

Fray says: "The piano was not my choice. It was the choice of my parents. In the end, it was the right choice, of course it was, because it's a fantastic instrument with a very wide, large and open repertoire."

He was not thrilled by the simple finger exercises beginners must do, but fell in love with the sound once he could play melodies.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Tomorrow, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $50 to $200 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

"When you are able to correctly play a nice piece of music, you get satisfaction. The satisfaction comes even today because you are able to make the piano sound how you want."

Fray makes the piano sound fantastic, which is why his debut performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall tomorrow is eagerly anticipated. The classical pianist's nimble fingers have won him fans around the world.

BBC Music Magazine named him "newcomer of the year" in 2008, a year after Virgin Classics released his first CD - an eyebrow-raising but uplifting combination of Bach as well as French composer Pierre Boulez. The Times of London and Belgian newspaper Le Soir called it the best record of the year.

That same year, Fray married Italian actress Chiara Muti, daughter of famous conductor Riccardo Muti - they met when Fray performed under her father's baton - and was made even more famous via a documentary on his life and work, presented by German/ French TV network ARTE +7.

A former pupil of Jacques Rouvier at the National Superior Conservatory of Music in Paris, Fray came to critics' attention with the 2004 Montreal International Music Competition. He received the second grand prize and the prize for the best interpretation of a Canadian work.

He has since worked with a who's who list of conductors, including Kurt Masur with the Orchestre National de France, Paavo Jarvi with Orchestre de Paris and Marin Alsop with the London Philharmonic.

Tomorrow's concert is his first time with the Dresden Philharmonic and its principal conductor, Michael Sanderling. Fray is excited about working with them on Schumann's Piano Concerto In A Minor, in which, he says, "the symbiosis between piano and orchestra is fundamental".

"To me, it's one of the great masterpieces," he says. "It took me a lot of time to learn it and play it in concert. It's a bit intimidating.

"The challenge is to give it structure, architecture, to make coherent all the elements of the piece. With Schumann, it's easy to give the impression that the elements are not connected. My job is to make it logical, give it a sense, a meaning."

To prepare for the performance, he plans to sleep the afternoon before. Then, there is his must- have before he takes the spotlight: an open score so he can soothe himself by looking at the notes.

"Before entering the stage, I always have the score open in front of me. I'm trying not to be distracted by something else while I'm playing," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Arranged affair with the piano'. Print Edition | Subscribe