Daniil Trifonov – Biography

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. She concluded that Trifonov was gifted with “everything and more”, a view since endorsed by a flood of rave reviews, audience ovations and international prizes.

In July 2015 Richard Morrison 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.” The final recital in the pianist’s season-long Carnegie Hall Perspectives series, given in May 2018, prompted the New York Times to praise his “tremendous mental focus and physical stamina” in a programme comprising landmark works from each decade of the 20th century.

Trifonov’s pianism, with its captivating blend of poetry and power, 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. 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, combined Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, Scriabin’s “Sonata-Fantasy”, and Chopin’s 24 Preludes op. 28. Nominated for the 2015 Grammy® Awards in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category, it also helped Trifonov secure the 2014 ECHO Klassik Award for Best Newcomer of the Year (Piano). His next recording, released in 2015, comprised a vital interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, made with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, together with outstanding performances of the same composer’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin and Variations on a Theme of Corelli. It also included Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana, a virtuoso piece for solo piano, and contributed to his winning the international public vote for Gramophone’s 2016 “Artist of the Year” award.

In 2016, DG released his double-disc set of 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. Transcendental was announced as winner of the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category at the 60th Grammy® Awards in January 2018.

Trifonov’s discography expanded in 2017 with 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 (in Pletnev’s orchestrations), 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.

Last October DG released the first in a two-album set of the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos Trifonov has made with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin, following in the footsteps of Rachmaninov’s own legendary recordings with the same orchestra. Destination RachmaninovDeparture, which paired the famous Piano Concerto No.2 with the less familiar Piano Concerto No.4, won the Concerto category at this year’s BBC Music Magazine awards, and was hailed by The Guardian as “one of the outstanding releases of the year”. Set for release on 11 October 2019, Destination Rachmaninov – Arrival will complete the cycle with Nos.1 & 3. Trifonov also performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto as part of last October’s historic DG120 Gala Concert at Beijing’s Forbidden City, the live recording of which was released in various formats in January 2019.

Highlights of his 2018-19 season included concertos by Ravel and Beethoven with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Jaap van Zweden; residencies at the Vienna Musikverein (including the Austrian premiere of his Piano Concerto) and with the Berliner Philharmoniker; Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 in Rome and on tour in South Korea and China with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Sir Antonio Pappano, and in Boston with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons; European and US recital tours; and concerts with Matthias Goerne at Berlin’s Philharmonie, in New York and at the Ravinia Festival. He was also named Musical America’s 2019 Artist of the Year.

The pianist launches his 2019-20 schedule in the US with performances of concertos by Rachmaninov in Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver. He also teams up this autumn with his mentor Sergei Babayan for a recital series culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall (October 2019). In November he gives his first concert as the 1919-20 Artist-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic, performing the Scriabin Piano Concerto under Jaap van Zweden, while in December he travels to Los Angeles for performances of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the LA Philharmonic and Michael Tilson Thomas. He begins the New Year by joining forces once again with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos.1 and 5. 

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, an occasion etched in his memory by the loss of one of his baby teeth midway through the performance. During his student days at Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music, 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. The Financial Times subsequently wrote of his unstoppable progress and praised his 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.”

9/2019