America’s leading concert annotator has died

America’s leading concert annotator has died


norman lebrecht

January 04, 2022

We hear from his family that Richard Freed has died in the week that he turned 93.

A kindly man, Richard was executive director of the Music Critics Association of North America from 1974 to 1990 and a contributing editor of Stereo Review.

He was probably the country’s most prolific writer of program notes, serving the orchestras of St. Louis, Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington DC. He was also consultant to the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra when that post was held by Mstislav Rostropovich (pictured) and Leonard Slatkin.


  • Richard was a national treasure. His program notes and commentaries were the best I had ever read. Although he seemed to some a curmudgeon, those of us who knew him well found a kind, thoughtful person who cared deeply about his family as well as his profession. I was indeed fortunate enough to not only work with him, but call Richard my friend

    • Alan K says:

      Totally agree with Mr. Slatkin. As a long time attendee of KC Concerts including the NSO, I always looked forward to Richard Freed’s superb program notes. RIP

  • JoshW says:

    A “kindly man” indeed – a gentleman and a scholar.

  • Ilio says:

    His Basic Repertory Pamphlet from Stereo Review was a most useful guide for this newbie back in the 70s.

  • Smiling Larry says:

    The sad news inspires happy memories of a classy and wonderful person. I got to know Mr. Freed in Washington when I was inspired to write him an appreciative note about one of his concert notes that struck me as particularly insightful, though they always were. He responded with great warmth, and if there was a curmudgeonly side to him I never saw it over the years.

    In the end he was treated somewhat highhandedly by the Kennedy Center, who replaced him in a peremptory and unbecoming manner after many years of exemplary contributions to concert life in Washington.

    He also shared with me the following all- time best story about his visit to Leopold Stokowski’s New York apartment in the 1960s:

    “He had sent me from the living room, where he was studying scores and making telephone calls, to another room to look at his collection of scores, or whatever. After a certain time elapsed, he appeared in that room, smiling beatifically, and proceeded into yet another room, which looked dark when he opened the door and shut it behind him. Then from that room emanated a female-sounding groan, which continued for several minutes. After it had quieted, the door opened (with the room still dark) and LS, still smiling, returned to discuss with me the final movement of Haydn’s 53rd Symphony, which he at that point did not remember recording……..”

  • Richard Freed was a gentle, humble human being who was approachable and who always said hello to me backstage. In this Rostropovich retrospective film, made about 10 years ago, you will listen to several memorable stories from Freed. Rest in peace.

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    In 1985 the Smithsonian in Washington issued a set of historic recordings under the title “Virtuosi.” On my seven LP set, side 1 starts with Pablo Casals and side 14 ends with Jascha Heifetz. In between are Landowska … Schnabel … Feuermann …Rachmaninoff…Dennis Brain and many of their peers.

    These selections were made by Richard Freed, who also provided 86 (!) pages of biographical and musical notes. I have sometimes read through this booklet without a record on the turntable, finding pleasure in his accurate and lucid prose.