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Daniil Trifonov: A kind of concentration that has all but vanished in the Twitter era (Jarosław Roland Kruk CC-BY-SA-3.0)


The first time I heard Daniil Trifonov I wrote that he was “a pianist for the rest of our lives”. This is the rarest of species, an incontrovertible elite. Vladimir Horowitz defined the breed when he burst onto the West in the 1920s with dazzling fingers and an air of fragile permanence. Sviatoslav Richter, impermeably private, left a similar impression when the Soviets finally let him out in 1960.

Nameless others flattered briefly to deceive. Dozens more enjoyed delirious success and an adoring public. But Horowitz and Richter were the rainmakers of the piano, the ones who changed the weather. And I had no doubt, on first hearing or since, that Daniil Trifonov belongs to that mighty handful, that exclusive kuchka of colossi.

What is it about Trifonov that sets him apart from all other pianists? He is, on first sight, the least modern of artists. He wears a dark suit, black tie, often uncomfortably. On stage, he hunches over the keyboard, unaware of the audience. If he uses a score, he is quicker to turn pages than the fastest of attendants. He makes no pause between pieces, stifling applause for an hour or more.

In return, he delivers a modern benefice, the kind of concentration that has all but vanished from our tweet-shattered attention spans. The tension when Trifonov plays is breathless. And, within that grip, he finds narrative where none previously existed. He is the first pianist I have ever heard who plays a set of Chopin Études as if reciting for the first time a Tolstoy novella.

The sound is almost secondary. He often prefers a Fazioli piano to a Steinway, finding its clipped precision best suited to his cloud formation of sonority and silence. No musician since John Cage has used silence so creatively, or sound with such economy. No point asking Trifonov where this idea comes from: it is inimitably his own.

The focus can be terrifying. In a power-cut concert with Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra, Trifonov carried on playing his part long after the lights went out. Twice I have seen him play with serious injuries. On the first occasion, he tripped on a step, coming out of a yoga session, and suffered mild concussion. On the second, he played a full Wigmore Hall recital in surgical strapping after damaging his wrist in an over-enthusiastic photographic session for his record label.

I sat with him once at dinner after an arduous concert, urging him to eat more than half a desultory lettuce leaf on his plate. Daniil said he felt no hunger. He had worked all morning with a technician trying to “voice” a Fazioli for the 2,788-seat, acoustically frigid Royal Festival Hall. By noon he was talking of trying a Steinway when the Fazioli man finally came up with the right balance. The rest of the afternoon was spent testing it. By 5pm, when Daniil was satisfied, it was too close to the concert to take more than a sip of water without risking discomfort. Afterwards, he was too uplifted to eat. The immersion in music renders him oblivious to most human urges. He is a one-off.

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Christopher JOHN
April 27th, 2017
6:04 AM
Better late than never....after Trifonov's recent concert with the Melbourne S.O. one of the orchestra's members sitting just a couple of metres from him told me "Trpceski kicks this kid's ass to Jupiter". I think the jury might well be still out.

Larry Lapidus
July 24th, 2016
5:07 PM
Applied to anyone else (living) I can think of, this would be nauseating hyperbole. In Trifonov's case, however, it really is not. He is already in that class of great musician Rubinstein spoke of when he explained that some artists (he deftly, and correctly, included himself) are simply incomparable, that they are themselves whole universes with which it is pointless and incorrect to compare other universes. He provided an illustration in pointing out the absurdity of comparing, I think it was, Rembrandt with Renoir. If he should, God forbid, never play another note, Trifonov has already altered the history of European music.

Ears for Eugene Prokh
July 9th, 2016
6:07 AM
"I get an impression that the author have not heard Sokolov and/or Pletnev (also spelled Pletniov) playing. The praise for Trifonov would have been a bit less high. He is not in their class; at least not yet." Try listening with the wax cleaned out of your ears.

Sophie
July 8th, 2016
3:07 PM
Agree with Norman! This young man is absolutely incredible!

Eugene Prokh
July 8th, 2016
8:07 AM
I get an impression that the author have not heard Sokolov and/or Pletnev (also spelled Pletniov) playing. The praise for Trifonov would have been a bit less high. He is not in their class; at least not yet.

Bo
July 8th, 2016
8:07 AM
By Yulia Andreeva I suppose you mean Yulianna Avdeeva

John Willan
July 7th, 2016
5:07 PM
What about Andrei Gavrilov?

Jeffrey Biegel
July 7th, 2016
3:07 PM
Such a beautiful tribute to a young artist as he ascends to the pinnacles of musical offerings.

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