The Piano as Orchestra

Portrait: Pianist Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov
(Photo: Dario Acosta)

On 29 January, Daniil Trifonov will be the guest artist with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the second time this season: under the direction of Kirill Petrenko, he will play Sergei Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto, an early work by the composer, which will be streamed live in the Digital Concert Hall. Find out what distinguishes Daniil Trifonov as a pianist and what his collaboration with the Berliner Philharmoniker is like in our portrait of the artist.

Trifonov seems to literally merge with the piano. With uncanny assurance he elicits a wide range of sounds from the instrument, from a tender pianissimo to the most powerful fortissimo. Daniil Trifonov is regarded as an exceptional pianistic talent. In 2011 he won two prestigious international competitions, the Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Within a short time, the son of professional musicians, who gave his first public concert performance with an orchestra at the age of eight, joined the ranks of the world’s leading pianists. His recipe for success: “You have to constantly approach music differently – even if you have the repertoire in your fingers.”

Alexander Scriabin as guiding star

A student of Tatiana Zelikman and Sergei Babayan, he impresses audiences with his technical brilliance and musical expressiveness. A decisive experience for his understanding of sound was the first time he heard Alexander Scriabin’s symphonic poem Le Poème de l’extase, at the age of twelve. Since then he has endeavoured to convey the richness of Scriabin’s orchestral colours on the piano. The fact that he composes himself is an added advantage which enables him to develop his own particular approach to the works he interprets.

Brilliant and unconventional

Daniil Trifonov has attracted attention not only with his distinctive playing but also because of his unconventional practice techniques. In order to gain the necessary strength for his fortissimo eruptions, he practices under water in a swimming pool or lying on the piano bench. “Every pianist must try to find a flexible and relaxing way to play,” as he said in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall in 2016 when he made his debut with the Philharmoniker. For his first appearance, he played one of the most difficult works in the repertoire: Sergei Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which is both virtuosic and Romantic and demands extraordinary pianistic skill. “Again and again there were moments of magical affinity with the Philharmoniker,” wrote the critic in the Tagesspiegel. A series of further magical moments have followed since then – Schumann’s Piano Concerto under the baton of Mariss Jansons, Alexander Scriabin’s rarely performed concert in F sharp minor, which Trifonov presented as the 2018/19 season’s artist in residence, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto under Kirill Petrenko. According to Trifonov in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, he enjoys working with the Berliner Philharmoniker so much because they are such a responsive and flexible orchestra.