Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has been busy, to say the least. For more than a year now, the 21-year-old rising star in the classical music world has been making a string of debuts that have included concerts with the world’s leading orchestras and his Feb. 5 recital at Carnegie Hall.
Some fanfare came a day earlier when the Deutsche Grammophon label announced it would be recording the performance to distribute later this year and seemed to echo sentiments from some corners hailing Trifonov as the coming of the next Vladimir Horowitz.
On Saturday, you can listen for yourself in Whitney Hall when the Kentucky Center presents Trifonov and the Russian National Orchestra in concert. Giancarlo Guerrero, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s music director, will conduct. The Russian National Orchestra also will play Smetana’s overture from “The Bartered Bride” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor.
Trifonov has risen to prominence via the world of international piano competitions. Starting at age 17, he played and won prizes, including first prize at the 2008 International Piano Competition of San Marino, the sovereign state nestled in Italy just northeast of the Apennine Mountains. From there, he went on to compete in other contests.
Two years later came the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. The next year his performances at the Tel Aviv-based Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition and Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition earned him a slew of accolades.
If piano competitions were viewed as horse races, then Trifonov had achieved a trifecta. It led to not only concerts but also recordings that include Chopin solo piano works released by Decca in 2011 and last year’s recording of another selection of solo piano music and still another of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra.
Since his debut recital at Carnegie Hall, the pianist has embarked on a 12-city tour with the Russian National Orchestra that includes Louisville. Here he will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. It’s the same piece he played in his debut in October with the New York Philharmonic.
Speaking by phone last week while traveling between concert venues, Trifonov called the piece “the most perfectly structured” concerto. He compared its harmonic language to Prokofiev’s “Ugly Duckling,” featuring voice and piano.
A familiar work
It’s a piece he’s known for a while, considering he performed it at the competition in San Marino nearly five years ago. He said that since then this concerto has changed for him in part because of his further studies at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music, where he enrolled at 18, and his more recent work with pianist Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland School of Music.
Babayan described working with Trifonov before the October performance as “one of the happiest moments,” as he recalled sitting in on rehearsals with the philharmonic and then practicing at Babayan’s New York apartment.
“He has a huge gift, huge musicality, and an incredible, intense love for music and total dedication,” he said.
Trifonov said he has also listened carefully to interpretations by other artists, primarily pianists Martha Argerich and William Kapell. He called both his favorites in part because, although they are different, “both take a very personal approach and are incredibly inspired.”
For Trifonov, the initial inspiration to learn music came from a synthesizer he began playing with at age 5. Although his father, a composer, and mother, a music theory teacher, also had a piano in the house, Trifonov said the sounds and tones the electric keyboard produced moved him to create compositions. From there, his parents enrolled him in lessons. His progress led them to move the family to Moscow when he was 9 to study music.
“Of course, it was not an easy decision. It was a great sacrifice for them,” he said, and one that led his father to take a job outside the music field.
While the majority of his performances involve playing works by famed composers, he still spends time creating works of his own. He named Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, creator of “Mysterium,” his “compositional idol.”
“I’m incredibly addicted to his music,” he said.
But he also said he listens to all kinds of music, including rock and jazz. One jazz musician he particularly admires is the late American pianist Art Tatum. He described a legend that Horowitz said he would quit playing if he found out that Tatum decided to pursue classical music.
Trifonov’s concert with the Russian National Orchestra is the latest in the recent string of performances of large-scale touring orchestras at the Kentucky Center that re-emerged in 2010 with a concert by the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. The center followed by presenting the Royal Philharmonic in January 2012 with renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman and then in April bringing in violinist and Joshua Bell conducting and playing with The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Efforts by the Kentucky Arts Council added to the mix in February 2011 when it brought the National Symphony Orchestra to the Kentucky Center and for events throughout the state.
Reporter Elizabeth Kramer can be reached at (502) 582-4682.