“Stunning. Staggering. Stupendous … Bates composed the concerto during the pandemic with Trifonov in mind. Seldom have composer and artist been so suited to each other. Trifonov and the orchestra tapped ideas across an invisible musical tennis net and intertwined themes with the sleek grace of snakes in a caduceus.”
Bachtrack, January 2022, reviewing the world premiere of Mason Bates’ Piano Concerto in Philadelphia
Whenever Daniil Trifonov performs, time appears to stand still. Out of silence emerges a rare kind of music-making, transcendent and revelatory, never predictable yet always alive to the composer’s intentions and rooted in the music’s nature. “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.
Trifonov’s 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. He has since performed the work extensively and gave its Carnegie Hall debut with the Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev in November 2017. Trifonov premiered his Piano Quintet (Quintetto Concertante) at the Verbier Festival in July 2018 and has since given further performances in Berlin, New York and Tel Aviv, among others.
Deutsche Grammophon announced the signing of an exclusive recording agreement with Daniil Trifonov in February 2013. His debut recital, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, presented Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, Scriabin’s “Sonata-Fantasy”, and Chopin’s 24 Preludes op. 28. His next album, released in 2015, featured Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, together with the same composer’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin and Variations on a Theme of Corelli and Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana, a virtuoso piece for solo piano.
In 2016, DG released Transcendental, his recording of Liszt’s complete concert Études: the first such survey created for the Yellow Label by one artist. The following year saw the release of Preghiera, recorded with violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė; Chopin Evocations, comprising recordings made with Mikhail Pletnev and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of the two Chopin piano concertos, as well as a selection of Chopin’s earliest and latest works, and Chopin-inspired pieces by Schumann, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Mompou and Barber; and a Schubert album featuring the “Trout” Quintet and other chamber works, recorded with Anne-Sophie Mutter and three graduates of the Mutter Foundation.
Trifonov then recorded the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin. Destination Rachmaninov – Departure, featuring Nos.2 and 4, was released in October 2018, and was followed a year later by Destination Rachmaninov – Arrival, completing the cycle with Nos.1 & 3. His live recording of No.2 as part of the historic DG120 Gala Concert at Beijing’s Forbidden City was released in January 2019.
Silver Age, made with the Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, was issued in November 2020. It includes Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, among other works by three of the most pioneering composers of Russia’s Silver Age.
In October 2021, Daniil Trifonov released a double album centred around J.S. Bach’s masterpiece The Art of the Fugue. Also including pieces by four of Bach’s sons, among other works, Bach: The Art of Life reflects the pianist’s insight into the family life and music-making of one of the greatest composers of all time. The release was greeted with critical acclaim, with BBC Music Magazine, for example, writing, “this recording is a revelation … Trifonov’s approach seems effortless, at once incisive and tender, purveying pure pleasure from start to finish”.
The pianist’s latest release sees him team up with baritone Matthias Goerne for the last in the latter’s trilogy of Lieder recordings with three of DG’s outstanding young pianists. The pair have recorded works by Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Berg and Shostakovich, and Matthias Goerne · Daniil Trifonov – Lieder is set for release on 10 June 2022.
Highlights of Trifonov’s 2021–22 season so far have included Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with the New York Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden at Lincoln Center; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.9 in Rome with the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia and Sir Antonio Pappano; and the world premiere of Mason Bates’ Piano Concerto in Philadelphia with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
His future plans include Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer in Budapest and Piano Concerto No.5 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Gustavo Gimeno in Toronto (both in May); the West Coast premiere performances of the Bates Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony (2–5 June); recitals with Matthias Goerne featuring the repertoire from their forthcoming album at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Klavier-Festival Ruhr in Wuppertal, Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle, the Paris Philharmonie and the Vienna Musikverein (9, 11, 13, 15 and 18 June respectively); and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko at the Waldbühne open-air theatre in Berlin (25 June).
Daniil Trifonov was born in Nizhny Novgorod in 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. He made his debut with orchestra at the age of eight, and went on to study at Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music. During his time there he 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 Trifonov secured fifth prize in Moscow’s Fourth International Scriabin Competition. The following year he enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music to study piano with Sergei Babayan; he also received lessons in composition during his time there. He 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. He also won the Tchaikovsky Competition’s Audience Award and the Award for the best performance of a Mozart concerto, on which occasion, Martha Argerich concluded that Trifonov was gifted with “everything and more”. Her view has been endorsed by an ongoing flood of rave reviews, audience ovations, artistic residencies and international prizes, including one Grammy Award (Transcendental) and three nominations; the 2014 ECHO Klassik Award for Best Newcomer of the Year (Piano); Gramophone’s 2016 “Artist of the Year” award; BBC Music Magazine’s 2019 Concerto Recording of the Year (Destination Rachmaninov – Departure); and the accolade of being named Musical America’s Artist of the Year 2019.