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 reinforced in January 2017 by Alex Ross in The New Yorker. “What sets Trifonov apart,” he observed, “is a pair of attributes that are seldom found in one pianist: monstrous technique and lustrous tone.”

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. It also included Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana, a virtuoso display piece for solo piano. The album attracted worldwide acclaim from critics and audiences alike, and contributed to his winning the international public vote for Gramophone’s 2016 “Artist of the Year” award.

Trifonov’s third Deutsche Grammophon recording, released as a double-disc set in October 2016, presented Liszt’s complete concert Études. Transcendental coupled the notoriously challenging “Transcendental Etudes” with the Grandes Études de Paganini and five other concert studies, the first complete survey created for the Yellow Label by one artist. “Trifonov’s is the best kind of virtuoso playing, where one is hardly aware of the notes being played, allowing one to simply bask in the genius of Liszt’s musical narrative and the transcendant execution of an awesomely gifted pianist,” Gramophone concluded. The pianist’s discography expanded in February 2017 with the release of Preghiera, made with violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė. A new album, Evocations, will be released in October 2017, featuring recordings made with Mikhail Pletnev and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of the two Chopin piano concertos (in Pletnev’s new orchestrations). It will also include a selection of the same composer’s earliest and latest works, and Chopin-inspired pieces by Schumann, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Mompou and Barber.

Since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, Trifonov has travelled the world as recitalist and concerto soloist. He has appeared with many of the world’s greatest orchestras and finest conductors at a host of prestigious concert venues and festivals. His interpretations of Prokofiev’s First and Third Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev were hailed as clear highlights of the 2015 BBC Proms season, while his return to the festival the following summer with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major K467 prompted the Guardian to praise the “sheer élan of Trifonov’s pianism”.

In the 2015-16 season, critical acclaim followed a succession of high-profile debut dates and notable concerts, embracing everything from his first recital at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles and a four-concert residency at Wigmore Hall to his subscription concert debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, a major North American tour with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and concerts in Shanghai with the New York Philharmonic, to whose Board of Directors he was elected in November 2015 – a considerable achievement for so young an artist, and one that underlines just how highly he is esteemed by the orchestra.

Having launched the 2016-17 season by touring with the Filarmonica della Scala and Riccardo Chailly, Trifonov then gave a series of recitals in Germany and Austria. Other highlights have included a Carnegie Hall recital; Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti; Rachmaninov’s complete piano concertos with Valery Gergiev in Munich and on tour; a chamber music evening with Anne-Sophie Mutter and members of the Mutter’s Virtuosi at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival; and concerto dates with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra

His forthcoming engagements include concerto appearances with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at this summer’s Tanglewood Festival and with Nelsons and the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Salzburg Festival. Highlights of the 2017-18 season include tours to Japan and China in September; a US tour on which he will perform his own piano concerto; recitals featuring some of the Evocations repertoire at Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and the Philharmonie de Paris, among other venues; and performances of the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Mariss Jansons at the Berlin Philharmonie.

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.”