Daniil Trifonov at the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Is Trifonov Ressucitating The Russian Piano Golden Age?

Nélida Nassar  11.12.2012

The twenty-year old pianist Daniil Trifonov, already much sought after by the major orchestras and concert halls worldwide, made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut Thursday evening. At age eight, he won his first music competition, the Artobolevskaya Moscow Contest for young pianists.

Since then he has accumulated the awards winning three consecutive competitions in the same year. He was the Third Prize winner of the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. A few weeks after winning the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Trifonov was awarded the First Prize, Gold Medal and Grand Prix at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Trifonov also won the Audience Award and the Award for the Best Performance of a Chamber Concerto. With the support of the charismatic and powerful conductor Valery Gergiev, and of the celebrated pianist Martha Argerich, Trifonov is releasing his first recordings and is on his way to a solo career.

Born March 5, 1991 in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Daniil Trifonov could hardly escape his musical calling. His great-grandparents were vocalists and built accordions. His grandmother conducted choirs and his mother teaches music theory. His father began as a punk rock composer then moved to classical music. At age five, Trifonov started playing the synthesizer and composing with his father. When the latter realized that his son had perfect pitch, he taught him the piano. At age 9, Daniil entered the class of Tatiana Zelikman, the teacher of Konstantin Lifschitz, Alexander Kobrin and Alexei Volodin at the Gnessin Conservatory in Moscow.  He now studies with Sergei Babayan of the Cleveland Institute
of Music.

Thursday evening, from the first moment the Costa Riccan maestro Giancarlo Guerrero raised his baton and the Boston Symphony Orchestra launched into Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor the magic happened. Trifonov’s style is heavily influenced by what he plays. It is not difficult to recognize the influence of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Scriabin and Ravel. Behind the interlacing of glissandi, the juxtaposition of the concerto’s folk theme with the romantic tone, it is a feverish tempo in all its verve and expressive amplitude that unravel. For half an hour, Trifonov, leaning on his keyboard, with literally dripping hair, attempted to invest every single note with a weight of mystery and splendor, and succeeded with a devastating charm. He plays with intellect, passion and great technique projecting the adrenaline of a natural performer.

His sense of cantabile is special, caressing the octaves lyrically with feline lightness. His agility and strength of his playing faster and louder than our ears are used to hearing was remarkable. He has the ability to cleanly articulate and shade every note from whisperry pianissimo to timber-rattling tremors, and all without any sense of strain or effort. Alas, what we missed yesterday is an inner personal poetic voice with its sense of deep emotion that will undoudtedly come with greater musical maturity.

As soon as the last note ceased, the concert hall jumped up, whistling and screaming as if at a rock concert. Trifonov came back to deliver an encore of pure gracefulness: Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s “Widmung,” which pleased his audience. This lieder’s poetry released like a torrent of pearl sounding arpeggios. The “Widmung” was so much like a declaration of love that the hall, from the orchestra to the audience, was now electrified. Is Trifonov trying to revive the golden age of Russian piano?

Roberto Sierra’s “Fandangos,” a premiere in the composer’s presence, preceded the Tchaikovsky. The archetypical manifestation of dance with strong rhythmic drive and orchestral tour de force was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with great gusto, color and textural imagination. The piece retains traditional Spanish dance form as well as Afro-Caribbean, South and Central American musical traditions. Its musical mélange is refracted through the piece’s glittering orchestration in a manner reminiscent
of Ravel’s Boléro.

The last piece after the intermission was Sergei Prokofiev’s war-time Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major. Composed in the summer of 1944, it sets out to portray the greatness of the human spirit, and maestro Guerrero invested the expansive opening andante and intense, expressive adagio with rare authority. The Boston Symphony Orchestra displayed considerable power, more expansive than some other orchestras but conceived with a judicious balance between emotional weight and structural cohesion. It offered energy, atmosphere, humanity and technical accomplishment in those passages (notably in the closing movement and the finale) where Prokofiev taxed an orchestra’s cohesion. These are healthy qualities on which to build, and, maestro Guerrero did not disappoint.

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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