Daniil Trifonov, who will play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this weekend, has an astonishing record probably unmatched by any other 22-year-old in the world.
He is a habitual prize-winner, including gold medals at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv, and has appeared with numerous major orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic and those of New York, Chicago and Boston in the United States.
One of his fans is legendary pianist Martha Argerich.
This week Trifonov paused in his busy schedule to answer some questions about the Rachmaninoff concerto, Van Cliburn and today's musical world.
Will you discuss briefly Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, which you'll be playing here? Is it the most difficult piano concerto commonly played?
There are many concerti in the piano repertoire offering tremendous technical challenges, but, certainly, Rachmaninoff's Third stands on its own. The cadenza from the first movement is one of the peaks in world's pianism, but its main intentions are to serve great dramaturgical depths and an endless range of colors and polyphony.
The Tchaikovsky Competition, which you and he both won, and the Rach 3, played by both of you, bring to mind Van Cliburn. Did you ever meet him personally?
Van Cliburn, in my taste, is the unsurpassed interpreter of this concerto. The recording of this concerto by him is a great example of how much nobility and excitement this music possesses. I was honored to have a brief encounter with him, after the Tchaikovsky Competition. He was an honorary member of the jury of the competition, and right before the gala concert of the winners he came down to the room where we all were warming up for the upcoming performance, and he greeted and congratulated warmly every one of us. It was very touching.
What is Cliburn's reputation in Russia, 55 years after he won the Tchaikovsky? Is he a big name to people of your generation who were born long after his victory?
Van Cliburn is certainly a legend first of all to the people who were lucky to hear him at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. But also for young generations, he stands as one of the piano idols of the 20th century.
You have competed in piano competitions and won some big ones. Would you discuss the role of competitions in the concert world today?
Competition can be the best possible stimulus for the performer to learn new repertoire. It teaches the ability to prepare vast programs and to be in maximum concentration for every piece being performed. And playing in competitions with the same programs from year to year is the way to lose this main advantage of the competitions.
I see that you are represented with several performances on YouTube. How useful do you think social media could be for artists?
I use YouTube a lot, but for a different purpose. As, due to travels, I do not have plenty of time to spend in Cleveland, where I study with Sergei Babayan, I record myself while traveling and send him the recording via YouTube. After he listens to them, we have a detailed lesson by Skype.
Your itinerary and the list of major orchestras you've played with show that you are a very busy man, especially at only 22 years old. Do you ever get the feeling that it could become overwhelming?
Since my victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition, it became obvious that without strict planning, my life would become overwhelming. So the first thing done after the competition was to set periods for vacations and learning new repertoire. I have at least two monthlong large breaks a year, plus several shorter ones.
In Googling your name, I ran across an article on a Russian football player named Oleg Trifonov. Are you related to him?
Although I am paying close attention to soccer, I haven't heard of such a player.... However, my father, Oleg Trifonov, a composer, primarily writing music for the Russian Orthodox Church, used to be in a punk-rock group in his student years. It was one of the first Soviet underground punk-rock groups, but it existed only for a few years.