At only 21 the charismatic Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has already reached a
remarkable number of milestones. Win the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions? Check. Debut with the New York Philharmonic? Check. And on Tuesday he will enjoy the most prestigious prize of all — a
Carnegie Hall recital debut
in the main hall.
With his virtuoso chops and mature interpretive insights, Mr. Trifonov’s rapid rise is easy to understand.
He is “a thoughtful artist and, when so moved, he can play with soft-spoken delicacy, not what you associate with competition conquerors,” Anthony Tommasini wrote in a 2011 review in The New York Times. At Carnegie he will play some of his favorite repertory: Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor and Chopin’s 24 Preludes.
A native of Nizhny Novgorod and from a musical family, Mr. Trifonov revealed his nascent gift at 5, when he started composing on an electric keyboard; he began studying piano a few months later. At 8, while performing a Mozart piano concerto, one of his baby teeth fell out. Mr. Trifonov moved to Moscow with his parents a year later so he could study at the august Gnessin School of Music with Tatiana Zelikman. Also a composer, he is now studying with Sergei Babayan in the artist diploma program at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Speaking with Vivien Schweitzer by phone from Ottawa, where he was performing with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Center Orchestra, Mr. Trifonov discussed life on tour and the importance of mentors.
Q. What is your daily practice routine?
A. If I’m not playing a concert I practice six to seven hours a day. But if it’s done on autopilot, it becomes like a bad habit. Practicing has to be emotional and not just technical. You should not hope for inspiration only during the concert but seek it while practicing.
How do you facilitate life as a traveling pianist?
I do yoga, stretching and swimming. It’s good to play on different instruments during the day, changing them every hour or so, which I do when at the Cleveland Institute. Such practicing helps to keep the fingers alert and aware of changes that might appear from piano to piano. In every new city I meet a new piano.
What’s the hardest aspect of your career?
Being onstage and performing is a great pleasure for me. There is a great deal of responsibility and concentration but not stress. What can affect me more is fatigue from the amount of travel and time wasted in airports.
What are you composing now?
I finished a piano sonata and am working on a piano concerto. I plan to include my own pieces in future concerts. I am influenced by the composers I love, like Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. In the 19th century pianists were also composers. This tradition should be renewed in the 21st century.
Who are your favorite living composers?
Carl Vine, whose fantastic Sonata for Piano No. 1 I love, as well as Arvo Pärt, Rodion Shchedrin and Krzysztof Penderecki. Among the younger generation I was especially impressed with Mauro Lanza.
Will you continue to study when you finish your degree?
There must always be a mentor for whom you can play. Until the death of his teacher, Heinrich Neuhaus, Sviatoslav Richter played all his programs for him, long after he had officially finished studying. There
is no moment when artists don’t need a teacher.