Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov, piano

Sun, July 9, 2017, 4:00pm


Winner of the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions, 26-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has astounded audiences around the world. Now Caramoor audiences have a chance to experience this “brilliant, uncommonly poetic soloist” (The New York Times). Trifonov’s 2016 album of Liszt etudes, Transcendental, ended up on numerous year-end lists and his sold-out Carnegie Hall recital last December was streamed to a worldwide audience on Facebook and medici.tv. Martha Argerich proclaimed Trifonov’s playing has “everything and more.” With “monstrous technique and lustrous tone” (The New Yorker), Trifonov tackles a challenging program, including Schumann’s Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”) and the composer’s “favorite work,” Kreisleriana, as well as works from two Russian giants—Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

“Daniil Trifonov’s playing has it all … he leaves you struggling for superlatives.” – The Guardian

Schumann  Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Schumann  Toccata, Op. 7
Schumann  Kreisleriana, Op. 16
– Intermission –Shostakovich  Selections from 24 Preludes and Fugues
Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, Op. 87, No. 4Prelude and Fugue in A Major, Op. 87, No. 7Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Op. 87, No. 2Prelude and Fugue in D Major, Op. 87, No. 5Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 87, No. 24Stravinsky  Three Movements from PétrouchkaDanse Russe (Russian Dance)Chez Pétrouchka (Petrushka’s Room)La semaine grasse (The Shrovetide Fair)

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Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov, piano

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Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov (dan-EEL TREE-fon-ov) has made a spectacular ascent in the world of classical music since winning First Prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions in 2011 at the age of 20. Combining consummate technique with rare sensitivity and depth, his performances are a perpetual source of awe. “He has everything and more…tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that,” stated pianist Martha Argerich, while the Financial Times observes, “What makes him such a phenomenon is the ecstatic quality he brings to his performances…Small wonder every western capital is in thrall to him.”

The 2016-17 season brings the release of Transcendental, a double album that not only represents Trifonov’s third title as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, but also the first time that Liszt’s complete concert etudes have been recorded for the label in full. In concert, the pianist – winner of Gramophone’s 2016 Artist of the Year award – plays Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto under Riccardo Muti in the historic gala finale of the Chicago Symphony’s 125th anniversary celebrations. Having scored his second Grammy Award nomination with Rachmaninoff Variations, he performs Rachmaninoff for his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle at the orchestra’s famous New Year’s Eve concerts, scheduled to air live in cinemas throughout Europe. Also with Rachmaninoff, he makes debuts with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies, returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and headlines the Munich Philharmonic’s “Rachmaninoff Cycle” tour with longtime collaborator Valery Gergiev. Mozart is the vehicle for his reengagements with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as for dates with the Staatskapelle Dresden at home and at the Salzburg Festival and London’s BBC Proms. He rejoins the Staatskapelle for Ravel, besides playing Beethoven with Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra; Prokofiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic; Chopin on tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra; and Schumann with the Houston Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and on tour with Riccardo Chailly and La Scala Orchestra.

Still only in his 20’s, Daniil Trifonov made his talent known when he won First Prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions in 2011 at the age of 20.

An accomplished composer, Trifonov also reprises his own acclaimed concerto in Kansas City. With a new program of Schumann, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky, he makes recital debuts at London’s Barbican and Melbourne’s Recital Centre; appears in Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Madrid, Oslo, Moscow, and other European hotspots; and returns to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and – for the fourth consecutive year – the mainstage of New York’s Carnegie Hall. He also gives duo recitals with his former teacher, pianist Sergei Babayan, in Princeton and Sarasota, and looks forward to returning to the Tanglewood, Verbier, Baden-Baden, and Salzburg Festivals.

Rachmaninoff was the focus of Trifonov’s 2015-16 season, when he played complete concerto cycles at the New York Philharmonic’s Rachmaninoff Festival and with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, besides showcasing the composer’s concertos in debuts with the Berlin Staatskapelle and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he headlined the prestigious Nobel Prize Concert; in his subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra; on an Asian tour with the Czech Philharmonic; and with the Orchestre National de Lyon and Munich Philharmonic. Prokofiev was the vehicle for his debut with the Montreal Symphony, on its North American tour, and for dates with the Orchestre National de France and the London Symphony Orchestra under Alan Gilbert. He also performed Chopin with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas and Tchaikovsky with the La Scala Orchestra. Trifonov made his Los Angeles recital debut and embarked on an extensive European recital tour with stops in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam. He undertook residencies in Lugano, Switzerland, and at London’s Wigmore Hall, where he collaborated with Sergei Babayan and violinist Gidon Kremer, whom he rejoined for concertos at the Cologne Philharmonic.

In the 2012-13 season, Trifonov made debuts with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Rome’s Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, London’s Royal Philharmonic, and at London’s BBC Proms. The following season, he collaborated with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of Washington, San Francisco, and London. Since making solo recital debuts at Carnegie Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, Japan’s Suntory Hall, and the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 2012-13, he has given solo recitals at venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Boston’s Celebrity Series, London’s Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (Master Piano Series), Berlin’s Philharmonie (the Kammermusiksaal), Munich’s Herkulessaal, Bavaria’s Schloss Elmau, Zurich’s Tonhalle, the Lucerne Piano Festival, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the Théâtre des Champs Élysées and Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica, Tokyo’s Opera City, and the Seoul Arts Center.

The 2013-14 season saw the release of Trifonov: The Carnegie Recital, the pianist’s first recording as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist; captured live at his sold-out 2013 Carnegie Hall recital debut, the album scored both an ECHO Klassik Award and a Grammy nomination. Besides the similarly Grammy-nominated Rachmaninoff Variations, recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, his discography also features a Chopin album for Decca and a recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra on the ensemble’s own label.

It was during the 2010-11 season that Trifonov won medals at three of the music world’s most prestigious competitions, taking Third Prize in Warsaw’s Chopin Competition, First Prize in Tel Aviv’s Rubinstein Competition, and both First Prize and Grand Prix – an additional honor bestowed on the best overall competitor in any category – in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition. In 2013 he was also awarded the prestigious Franco Abbiati Prize for Best Instrumental Soloist by Italy’s foremost music critics.

Born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, Trifonov began his musical training at the age of five, and went on to attend Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music as a student of Tatiana Zelikman, before pursuing his piano studies with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has also studied composition, and continues to write for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. When he premiered his own piano concerto in 2013, the Cleveland Plain Dealer marveled: “Even having seen it, one cannot quite believe it. Such is the artistry of pianist-composer Daniil Trifonov.”


Kinderszenen, Op. 15 Toccata Op. 7
Kreisleriana (Fantasies), Opus 16

About the Composer

Schumann was receptive to both literature and music. He became an important critic with an outlook informed by music history, and also a composer whose work drew often from literary characters and ideas. His father was a writer and translator, and he grew up surrounded by books. He began piano lessons at the age of seven. By ten or eleven he appeared in piano recitals and also studied flute and cello. By twelve he was beginning to compose. By eighteen he had produced a number of songs that allowed him to appear, “as poet and composer in one person,” foreshadowing his later musical approach. When he went to Leipzig ostensibly to study law (following a direction in the will of his father, who had died two years previously), he began piano studies with Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara (the just nine years old, but already a formidable pianist) was eventually to become his wife.

During this time, Schumann made use of some kind of mechanical device that would, he hoped, strengthen some of his fingers for virtuoso play. But the plan backfired; he began to feel a numbness that portended a weakening of the fingers. It is not clear exactly when or which fingers were involved, but the effect was to turn him from concentrating on performance to composing as his fundamental activity.

After a year at the famous University of Heidelberg, Schumann wrote to break the news to this mother that he simply had no talent for the law and was determined to be a musician. She checked with Wieck who promised the best for her son. She agreed that Robert should study with him. Though not completed in its final form until 1833, the Toccata was composed in its first form at this time. The Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana both date from several years later, when he was busy establishing himself as a composer of challenging, indeed, “ultra-modern” piano music.

During the intervening years, Clara Schumann fell hopelessly in love with him, and he with her, to the extreme displeasure of her father, who did not want his brilliant pianist daughter to link herself to a penniless composer ten years her senior. It took years, and even a lawsuit, as well as Clara’s coming of age, before they could marry, but their relationship was close and intense (not only through the eight children that Clara bore him, but also by way of shared artistic goals and her position as one of the greatest pianists of the century in promoting his music. She lived some 40 years after his death and always remained devoted to his memory and his music.


Kinderszenen, Op. 15

About the Work

Despite its title, Schumann’s Kinderszenen (“Scenes of childhood”) is not a work composed for young musicians, like the later Album für die Jugend (“Album for Youth”). It is one of the remarkable series of keyboard masterworks that he composed in the middle and late 1830s inspired by his love for his wife-to-be, Clara Wieck. In September 1839, Schumann wrote to his former counterpoint teacher, Heinrich Dorn. “Certainly much in my music embodies, and indeed can only be understood against the background of the battles that Clara cost me.” Schumann listed, as works of which she was “practically the sole motivation” the Concert sans Orchestre, Op. 14, the Sonata, Op. 11, the Davidsbündlertänze, Kreisleriana, and Novelletten. And though he didn’t mention them in that passage, the Kinderszenen, Op. 15, and the Fantasie, Op. 17, are also part of the group.

The expressive qualities of the thirteen pieces call for an interpreter of deep musical understanding to project these adult recollections of childhood. Schumann began work on the Kinderszenen between February 12 and 17. The anticipation of seeing Clara again after a lengthy separation brought in him specifically a spirit of playfulness, something that she sparked in his personality. Indeed, it is likely that the “children” being viewed in this cycle are Robert and Clara themselves.

Robert referred to this possibility when writing to Clara that March. “Before I forget it, let me tell you what else I have composed. Whether it was an echo of what you said to me once, ‘that sometimes I seemed to you like a child,’ anyhow, I suddenly got an inspiration, and knocked off about thirty quaint little things, from which I have selected twelve [actually, thirteen] and called them Kinderszenen.” He warned her that she must forget that she is a performer—in other words to avoid the kind of serious presentational execution of a presumed “masterpiece,” and simply penetrate into their spirit.

A Deeper Listen

He gave each movement a title, which he said were afterthoughts, but which are usually very apropos. He sometimes links separate movements with a half-close that pauses, then moves directly into the next number. Here Bittendes Kind (“Pleading child”) ends with the child’s plea unfulfilled, on an unresolved dominant seventh. In Kind im Einschlummern (“Child falling asleep”), the tot in question drops off on the subdominant. The other pieces capture typical Schumannesque moods such as a dreaming of distant places, the telling of curious tales, potential nightmares, or expressions of “enough happiness” (Glückes genug), an evening by the fireplace (Am Camin). Right in the middle of the set comes one of Schumann’s best-loved inspirations, Träumerei, with its dreamy expressiveness, balanced at the end by Der Dichter spricht (“The poet speaks”), the same kind of quiet and thoughtful epilogue that we find at the end of the song cycle Dichterliebe composed a few years later.


Toccata Op. 7

About the Work

The toccata is the earliest of Schumann’s work to show his fascination with the virtuoisity that was becoming a part of the musical world—especially by way of the violinist Paganini, whose example set many composers attempting to match him for sheer breathtaking difficulty. At the same time, it revealed Schumann’s early interest in the driving energy of Baroque style, an interest that would remain in his attraction to the works of Bach throughout his life.

He may have been working on it in 1828 and 1829 (there are references in his diary to a “toccata,” but not enough information to know whether it refers to this piece. He completed a version in 1830, but he reworked it in the summer of 1832. It was published in 1834.

A Deeper Listen

The first really striking feature about the Toccata, following two assertive measures to get the listener’s attention, is the constant drive of the 16th-note figure from beginning to end. “Toccata” means something “touched”—usually a work in which many notes are touched very quickly, as is certainly the case here. The non-stop activity calls for constant alternation of two fingers at a time in the right hand, and nearly the same in the left. In short, this appears to be the kind of piece Schumann would write as an etude for himself to make the ultimate demands on his own finger dexterity. Is it a response to the weakening of one or more fingers from his misjudged exercise with the gadget that damaged his hand?

The revision actually adds some new material to suggest that the Toccata is cast in a kind of sonata form, though even when the march-like figure that is the secondary theme appears, the driven 16th notes continue underneath. By the time Schumann is winding up for the close, he arranges the steady 16th notes in such a way that it feels as if the downbeat has shifted, tricking the ear in a manner almost unknown at this time, though later Schumann’s good friend Brahms will make excellent use of this trick.


Kreisleriana (Fantasies), Opus 16

About the Work

In the spring of 1838, Robert Schumann was delighted to hear of the successes that Clara had enjoyed as a soloist in Vienna. Indeed, not yet 19 years old, she had been awarded the honorary title of “Imperial-Royal Chamber Virtuoso,” which had been granted to only six other musicians in all of Europe, all much older and more experienced than she. But at the same time, this honor to Clara seemed to drive one more nail into the coffin of his hoped-for marriage to her. Her father was, and remained, vehemently opposed to the union, though Robert and Clara themselves had been in agreement already for several years.

In a frenzy of compositional activity starting in April (he later claimed it happened in just four days, but that is something of an exaggeration), Schumann set to work on a keyboard cycle of eight pieces under the overall title Kreisleriana, which he described in his diary as an opening of “completely new worlds.” The reference in the title is to Johannes Kreisler, the fictional Kapellmeister in tales by E.T.A. Hoffmann, a character that Schumann himself described as “eccentric, wild, and ingenious”—characteristics that many might have applied to Schumann himself.

It was Schumann’s plan to dedicate Kreisleriana to Clara, but Papa Wieck had a fit over the idea. By August, Schumann withdrew the suggestion and later published the score with a dedication to Chopin. Clara herself expressed some concern about the piece. “Sometimes your music actually frightens me, and I wonder: is it really true that the creator of such things is going to be my husband?”

A Deeper Listen

Certainly the music throughout much of the work is vehement, assertive, even “frightening” in its constant and complex rhythmic drive. In much of his earlier music he had explicitly identified many pieces as reflecting the personality of contrasting characters—the heroic, assertive Florestan, and the gentle, poetic Eusebius. Kreisleriana contains such contrasts, but here Schumann sees it as aspects of a single (remarkable) character. Here, in the words of Schumann scholar John Daverio, he approaches music more closely as literature.

Augmenting the rhythmic energy of the score is a daringly chromatic harmonic language. To most listeners hearing it with the ears of 1838, this was wild and crazy music. Small wonder that Papa Wieck felt that a composer who turned out such stuff was not likely to be able to support his daughter. At the same time he spent time playing through works by his idol, J.S. Bach, including the Well-Tempered Clavier during the composition of Kreisleriana, and the effects of that experience can be heard in most of the movements of the work: the texture of a prelude, a bit of two-part invention style, close imitation, and dance styles that Bach used, so that the score becomes a kind of romanticized Baroque.

The eight movements of Kreisleriana are not simply so many beads on a string. Hovering mostly between G minor and B-flat major, they form a coherent expressive arc, introspective, intense, tortured, and searching. The last movement’s main theme is one that Schumann reused three years later for the finale of his Spring Symphony. Here it is lively and whimsical, and it dies away in the distance as if heading out on a long journey.



Selections from 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87

About the Composer

Shostakovich was a young prodigy coming of age during Russia’s tormented years of war and rebellion that unseated an imperial dominion already centuries old. Young Shostakovich was hailed, at his graduation from the Leningrad Conservatory and the premiere of Symphony No. 1, his graduation piece, as the first great composer of the new socialist culture. Despite the success, his fame, over the years, was as much a burden as a pleasure when the Soviet government demanded certain kinds of artistic approaches—always in support of the system, offering music of a “positive” character. He spent much of his life in fear of dying in Stalin’s purges (as did many of his friends from the conservatory years and later).

Shostakovich was himself a fine pianist, so it can hardly be surprising that he wrote often for that instrument: the Aphorisms, the First Piano Sonata, and the First Piano Concerto, a work of prankish humor, can be grouped along with the satirical opera The Nose as compositions that won the approval of modernist critics.

At the same time, though, Shostakovich occasionally returned to the past for ideas, drawing upon the most firmly established of academic models, J.S. Bach, for his twenty-four Piano Preludes, composed in 1932-1933. Like the Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach, the Shostakovich work was planned to cover all possible major and minor keys. These were published as Op. 34.

About the Work

Twenty years later, Shostakovich returned to the Bachian model and created another set—this time containing both preludes and fugues—published as Opus 87. The moods and technical character of these short pieces range widely, offering overall a remarkably rounded view of his musical outlook. Such “abstract” works in the small form of short piano pieces were far less likely to arouse the criticism of Party apparatchiks than large symphonies, which Soviet critics always tried to evaluate for political meaning—a practice potentially dangerous to the composer.

Each Prelude-Fugue pair is in the same key, rotating through all possible major and minor keys. Sometimes the Fugue begins with a brief but explicit reference to the opening of the Prelude. Composed in 1950-51, the full set of twenty-four (following Bach’s model) was premiered in two concerts given by Tatyana Nikolaevna in December 1952.



Three Movements from Petrouchka

About the Composer

With the three brilliant ballets composed between 1910 and 1913 – The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring – the young Igor Stravinsky became the most talked-about composer in the world, and the most influential of the twentieth century. Following the successful premiere of Firebird in 1910, he made plans with the impresario of the Russian Ballet, Serge Diaghilev, to write a new ballet based on what he described as an ancient Russian spring ritual. This, of course, would be The Rite of Spring, but it was not, in fact, the next piece he finished. First he decided to turn to something entirely different, by way of artistic refreshment. This was to be a short piece for piano and orchestra, a kind of Konzertstück (the reference is probably to Weber’s work of that name).

While working on the piece at the piano— his preferred way of composing—he conceived the image of a puppet suddenly come to life and misbehaving in all kinds of saucy ways, “exasperating the patience of the orchestra,” he wrote, “with diabolical cascades of arpeggi. The orchestra in turn retaliates with menacing trumpet-blasts. The outcome is a terrific noise which reaches its climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of the poor puppet.”

Stravinsky then needed to find a suitable title. It came to him when he remembered his childhood delight in a popular Russian puppet whose misadventures were put on display at the Lenten fairs. The puppet in question, not unlike the English Punch in his madcap ways, was called Petrouchka. When Diaghilev arrived late in the summer, expecting to hear the music for the planned ballet, he was surprised to hear instead a concert work, but when Stravinsky played what he had written, the impresario realized that the music was full of theatrical possibility, and he quickly urged Stravinsky to make this music the basis of his next ballet. They worked out a scenario and Stravinsky adjusted the piano-and-orchestra music he had already written for the purpose.

About the Work

Petrouchka became an international sensation and raised Stravinsky’s reputation again (though as far as sheer scandalous reputation is concerned, he thoroughly outdid himself a year later with The Rite of Spring). A decade later, following a world war and a musical revolution that Stravinsky himself had inaugurated, he created a piano solo arrangement of some of the music from the ballet for Artur Rubinstein, who paid him 5,000 francs for this version. Under postwar conditions, the huge, expensive ballet productions of earlier years were harder to mount. A “practical” arrangement for piano solo not only kept the music before the public in some way, it also brought the composer some welcome additional income.

A Deeper Listen

The Russian Dance appears near the end of the first scene, when the three puppets (Petrouchka, a sad clown; the pretty Ballerina; and the powerful Moor) are tapped by the flute of the Conjurer at the Shrovetide Fair in St. Petersburg and suddenly come to life, dancing for the astonished audience. Petrouchka’s Room shows the anguish of the puppet when offstage, throwing himself around violently and cursing because the Ballerina teases him flirtatiously, but clearly prefers the other puppet, a powerful “he-man” type. These two movements had been composed before the adaptation into a ballet. But The Shrovetide Fair comes from the final scene of the ballet, which was composed later, and from which (in the ballet version) the piano is almost completely absent. So Stravinsky created this keyboard version from some of the crowd music that is purely orchestral when danced on stage.

– Steven Ledbetter