Daniil Trifonov – Biography

Whenever Daniil Trifonov performs, time appears to stand still. Out of profound 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 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.” The final recital in the pianist’s season-long Carnegie Hall Perspectives series, given in May 2018, prompted New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini 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.

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. 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 for the Yellow Label, released in 2015, comprised a vital 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 the same composer’sVariations on a Theme of Chopin andVariations on a Theme of Corelli. It also included Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana, a virtuoso display 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. “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 transcendent execution of an awesomely gifted pianist,” Gramophone concluded. Transcendental was announced as winner of the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category at the 60th Grammy® Awards in January 2018.

The pianist’s discography expanded in 2017 with the release of both Preghiera, recorded with violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, and Evocations, comprising recordings made with Mikhail Pletnev and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of the two Chopin piano concertos (in Pletnev’s new orchestrations), as well as a selection of Chopin’s earliest and latest works, and Chopin-inspired pieces by Schumann, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Mompou and Barber. “Do we need another recording of Chopin’s piano concertos?” asked the New York Times. “Well, we need this one, because Mr. Trifonov plays them magnificently”. Cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht, meanwhile, declared that Evocations is “… a damn good record…”.

Trifonov’s latest DG release is the first in a two-album set of the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos made with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin. Following in the footsteps of Rachmaninov’s own legendary recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Destination RachmaninovDeparture, a fascinating coupling of the famous Piano Concerto No.2 with the less familiar Piano Concerto No.4, is set for release this October, while Destination Rachmaninov – Arrival, planned for release in October 2019, will complete the cycle with Nos.1 & 3.

Since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, Trifonov has travelled the world as recitalist and concerto soloist. 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”. By then he had also been elected to the Board of Directors of the New York Philharmonic, a signal accolade for an artist only in his mid-20s.

A glance at Daniil Trifonov’s schedule confirms his status among today’s classical music superstars. He is in high demand at the world’s leading concert halls and festivals and a regular guest with top-flight orchestras throughout Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia. He launched his 2017-18 season in company with the Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev at the Lucerne Festival before taking his Evocations programme to China and the United States and on an extended tour of Europe. His itinerary also included Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Mariss Jansons; a recital tour with baritone Matthias Goerne; Carnegie Hall’s seven-concert Perspectives series; and concerto performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as an acclaimed appearance at Berlin’s The Venue, as part of DG’s Yellow Lounge series – an event viewed by over 260,000 Facebook followers.

The pianist will launch his 2018-19 schedule with performances of Ravel and Beethoven concertos with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Jaap van Zweden and continue with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop. His season also spans European and US recital tours; Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 in Rome 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; Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto in China with the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst; Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major in London and Vienna with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle; Scriabin’s Piano Concerto with Nelsons and the Berliner Philharmoniker; and concerts with Matthias Goerne at Berlin’s Philharmonie and in New York.

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 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 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. 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 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.”

8/2018