• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Serious-minded, seriously good

Daniil Trifonov's Queen's Hall recital was one of the standout events of this summer's Edinburgh International Festival.

The 21-year-old Russian stormed through two hours of teeth-clenching repertoire: Scriabin's Third Sonata, Agosti's fiendish transcriptions of Stravinsky's Firebird, Debussy's Images, Chopin's Opus 25 Etudes - He played it all from memory, with four encores.

That Trifonov is a prodigious talent has been indisputable since he won the Chopin Competition at the age of 19. But the term prodigy has negative connotations. Is he simply a technician? Can he be a balanced individual? Will he burn out?

The first of these is easily addressed after just one hearing. Something I really admired about that Edinburgh recital was his willingness to sacrifice technical perfection for the sake of musical exploration. He played around; he threw away notes for dramatic effect: his performance was a thrill. The other questions are trickier.

At the keyboard Trifonov was utterly absorbed. In conversation he comes across as rather serious. He sombrely explains he comes from a long line of musicians, growing up in Nizhny Novgorod, from where, incidentally, the excellent young pianist Denis Kozhukin also hails.

As a child Trifonov had hobbies –reading, geography, football – but as soon as he began playing the piano at the age of five it became his "everyday life."

"I loved discovering what kind of colours can be created in music. I remember hearing Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy on LP when I was 11 or 12 and it making a huge impression on me. It's the impact that the harmonic structure creates – it points right into the soul."

Has technique always come easily? "Every piece has its own challenges. I've been playing Chopin and Scriabin since I was a teenager so their music is really under my skin. Other composers –- Schubert, for example – only came later. I still find Schubert very difficult."

Trifonov moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 2009 to study with Sergei Babayan, and his target now is to learn new repertoire, and lots of it.

"My teacher's musical vision is exciting and unusual, but he also asks his students to use their own creativity to learn."

Trifonov's biography reads like the most seasoned soloist: concertos in New York, Boston, Chicago; recitals at the Lucerne Festival, the Royal Concertgebouw, the Wigmore Hall and, tomorrow, Glasgow's City Halls. When I ask whether his success brings pressure he lets out a long Russian nyet. "It's just a matter of how I manage my time. I try not to travel across the Atlantic more than once a month, and playing more than three concerts in a row is too tiring. I need time to recharge."

He doesn't play football anymore: too dangerous for his hands. But he still reads a lot – at the moment he's on a collection of American short stories and enjoying the Fitzgerald.

There is something nicely old-fashioned about Trifonov. When I ask which pianists he listens to, he lists Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Friedman. "Music - is also very connected with paintings, literature- especially a composer like Scriabin. So I go to museums and read in my free time to immerse myself in the world of the music I am playing."

Daniil Trifonov plays Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin at City Halls tomorrow.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

126992