Freddy Kempf is one of those rare pianists whose artistic sensibilities and all-encompassing technique seem perfectly at home in the music of such polar opposites as J.S. Bach and Prokofiev, Chopin and Schnittke, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, and many others. His eclectic nature might be attributed to his cosmopolitan background: born in London to a German father and Japanese mother, he lives in Berlin and, besides English, is fluent in Russian, French, and German, and does reasonably well with Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. The chameleonic Kempf also plays the violin and harmonica, but his connection to the piano goes deep: his grandfather was the great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff. Freddy Kempf devotes much of his concert schedule to recitals, but also regularly appears as a soloist and chamber player. He has concertized across the U.K., Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia, and the Americas. He has made numerous recordings, most of them available from the BIS label.
Born in 1977, Freddy Kempf began piano lessons at four and almost immediately exhibited astonishing talent. At eight he debuted at Royal Festival Hall in a performance of the Mozart Piano Concert No. 12, K. 414, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Under the guidance of Ronald Smith, with whom he studied from age 6-14, Kempf matured quickly and in 1987 won the U.K.'s National Mozart Competition.
In 1992 Kempf won the nationally televised BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, becoming the youngest performer up to that time to win this prestigious contest. Kempf's advanced studies were at the Royal Academy of Music in London and University of London.
While Kempf had further competition success, notably at the 1996 Young Concert International Auditions, which afforded him a debut concert at Carnegie Hall, he enjoyed his greatest career boost not from a competition victory but from his controversial third-place finish at the 1998 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. There Kempf was the audience favorite and thought to be the easy choice of the jury. Charges of jury bias by the media and the audience ensued and Kempf became an overnight sensation. On a return concert tour to Moscow in 1999 he appeared in a series sold-out concerts and acclaimed televised performances.
His first recording also came in 1999, a CD on BIS entitled Freddy Kempf Plays Schumann, which offered highly praised performances of Carnaval and other Schumann works. The following year, with violinist Pierre Bensaid and cellist Alexander Chaushian, he founded the Kempf Trio.
In the new century Kempf has regularly toured the globe, often appearing at high-profile events, as with the October 2004 inaugural concert of the Shanghai Concert Hall and his April 2006 and April 2011 solo engagements at Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Kempf's recordings have been streaming out on BIS at the rate of two or three per year. Notable among them is his 2004 Beethoven piano trios, with the Kempf Trio, and 2011 CD of works by J.S. Bach, Rachmaninov, Ravel, and Stravinsky.