Daniil Trifonov – Biography

Moments before Daniil Trifonov performs, a particularly profound silence invariably grips his audience. Out of it emerges a rare kind of music-making, transcendent and revelatory. “What he does with his hands is technically incredible,” observed one commentator shortly after the young Russian pianist’s winning performance in the final of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2011. “It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.” This was the opinion not of a professional critic but of one of the world’s greatest pianists, Martha Argerich. She concluded that Trifonov was gifted with “everything and more”, a view endorsed since by a flood of rave reviews, audience ovations and international prizes. In July 2015 Richard Morrison, senior critic of The Times (London) declared that “[Trifonov] is without question the most astounding pianist of our age”. The verdict was underlined by the Neue Zurcher Zeitung in July 2016, which praised Trifonov as a “Russian Miracle” and described him as a pianist without equal in his combination of “spontaneity, risk and high-drilled technique”.

Trifonov’s pianism, with its captivating blend of power and poetry, bears witness to a unique talent. His inventive brilliance and individuality also extend to his growing reputation as a composer, which reached a new level in April 2014 when he performed the fiendishly difficult solo part in the world premiere of his First Piano Concerto at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Deutsche Grammophon announced the signing of an exclusive recording agreement with Daniil Trifonov in February 2013. His debut recital for the yellow label, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, combined Liszt’s formidable Sonata in B minor, Scriabin’s “Sonata-Fantasy”, and Chopin’s 24 Preludes op. 28. The album was nominated for the 2015 Grammy® Awards in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category and also helped Trifonov secure the 2014 ECHO Klassik Award for Best Newcomer of the Year (Piano). His second recording for the Yellow Label, released in August 2015, comprised a compelling interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, made in company with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, together with outstanding performances of Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin and Variations on a Theme of Corelli. The album also included Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana, a virtuoso display piece for solo piano. His latest album, Transcendental, set for release in October 2016, contains Liszt’s complete concert Études. Trifonov, the first artist to record these fiendishly difficult works in full for Deutsche Grammophon, has been described by the Washington Post as “an heir to Liszt”.

Since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, Trifonov has travelled the world as recitalist and concerto soloist. He has appeared with many of the world’s great orchestras and finest conductors and at a host of prestigious concert venues and festivals. His performance of Prokofiev’s First and Third Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev was acclaimed as a clear highlight of the 2015 BBC Proms season. “Trifonov brought staggering dexterity to the First and an elegance to the Third that was utterly beguiling … extraordinary playing…”, observed the Guardian.

The pianist’s 2015-16 season was rich in debut dates and landmark concerts. In addition to making his recital debut at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Trifonov undertook an extensive European recital tour complete with appearances at the principal venues of Vienna, Berlin, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Barcelona and Amsterdam. His engagements included his subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra; a four-concert residency at Wigmore Hall; a wide-ranging North American tour with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra; concerts with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas and the Munich Philharmonic under Valery Gergiev; an Asian tour with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; and a 10-concert European tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Trifonov’s 2016-17 schedule starts with summer appearances at the Verbier, Ravinia, Aspen and Edinburgh festivals; other highlights include various concerts with the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann at Dresden’s Semperoper, the BBC Proms and Salzburg Easter Festival; performances of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel and the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski; Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 with the Munich Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev; a recital of works by Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky at Carnegie Hall and on tour throughout Europe, and a major tour of Australia.

Daniil Trifonov was born in Nizhny Novgorod on 5 March 1991, the son of professional musicians. “I started playing piano when I was five and was also composing and always playing some concerts,” he recalls. Daniil made his debut with orchestra at the age of eight, an occasion etched in the soloist’s memory by the loss of one of his baby teeth midway through the performance. During his student days at Moscow’s famous Gnessin School of Music, young Daniil borrowed historic recordings of great pianists from his teacher, Tatiana Zelikman, and absorbed lasting lessons from the recorded work of Rachmaninov, Cortot, Horowitz, Friedman, Sofronitsky and other representatives of a golden age of piano playing. “Among the pianists who inspire me nowadays are Martha Argerich, Grigory Sokolov and Radu Lupu,” he notes.

In 2008 the teenaged Trifonov secured fifth prize in Moscow’s Fourth International Scriabin Competition. The following year, on Tatiana Zelikman’s recommendation, he enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music to study piano with Sergei Babayan; he also received lessons in composition during his time there. Trifonov won the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv in 2011 before returning home to secure first prize, the Gold Medal, and Grand Prix at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition. Trifonov also won the Tchaikovsky Competition’s Audience Award and the Award for the best performance of a Mozart concerto. The Financial Times subsequently wrote of his career’s unstoppable progress and praised the pianist’s oceanic imagination: “What makes [Trifonov] such a phenomenon is the ecstatic quality he brings to his performances – an all-consuming intensity-of-belonging on the public platform that translates into something thrilling, absorbing, inspiring. Small wonder every western capital is in thrall to him.”