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Houston Symphony

Daniil Trifonov On Schumann, His New CD, And Wacky Concert Situations

Get to know the star Russian pianist, who returns to perform with the Houston Symphony


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  • Daniil Trifonov (Photo Credit: Dario Acosta / Deutsche Grammophon)
    Daniil Trifonov (Photo Credit: Dario Acosta / Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Daniil Trifonov's latest CD, "Transcendental" (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon)
    Daniil Trifonov's latest CD, "Transcendental" (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Danill Trifonov at HPM, Wednesday, November 3, 2016
    Danill Trifonov at HPM, Wednesday, November 3, 2016
  • Daniil Trifonov with HPM's Catherine Lu (Photo Credit: Daniil Trifonov)
    Daniil Trifonov with HPM's Catherine Lu (Photo Credit: Daniil Trifonov)

Recently named Gramophone 2016 Artist of the Year, Russian piano virtuoso Daniil Trifonov stopped by Houston Public Media to talk about his upcoming performances of Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Houston Symphony, the making of Transcendental (his new CD of complete Liszt etudes), and some fun facts about himself.

Listen to the complete interview above, and check out these highlights from our conversation below.

On concert "mishaps":

“I was eight, and I was playing in my hometown of Nizhny Novgorod with orchestra. It was one of Mozart's concerti. And one of my "milk teeth," during the performance, fell out. In the middle of the first movement ... It probably prepared me for some other accidents ... There was the opening of a concert hall ... the lighting system was not yet completely tested, so in the middle of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto, there was suddenly a blackout. Surprisingly, the orchestra – it was the London Symphony Orchestra – didn't stop playing. We actually finished the whole movement. For ten minutes, we just played in complete darkness. What happened is that [the musicians' stand partners] would go backstage and bring their cell phones so they could light up the score of their desk partner with their cell phone.”

On the Schuman Piano Concerto:

“This concerto embraces so many elements of Schumann's music. For example, in the first movement, this lyrical theme in the middle section, it reminds me so much of one excerpt from his Carnaval, a piece called "Chopin" ... It's an incredibly organic and perfectly structured piece with a very constant and unbreaking flow of compositional thought, something that actually for Schumann is quite unique. In his piano miniatures, especially, there are a lot of contrasts and sudden shifts. And on the contrary, in this concerto, there are many cases when the material just keeps developing, keeps going, and in that sense it's a much more symphonic work than his piano pieces. ... Schumann has been for a long time one of my favorite composers.”

On his new Liszt album:

“It had to be done in a very brief period of five days. I was actually shocked to realize how different Liszt's music is. Even within the same genre of etudes, he managed to explore such different soundscapes, from very Italian opera-esque atmospheres in his three concert etudes; to [his two] German-titled concert etudes, which are reminiscent to me of some paintings of German Romanticism; and of course his tribute to Paganini – not really transcriptions but more a reworking and rebuilding from the ground up of Paganini's famous caprices ... Also, after that sort of experience of being in hardcore recording conditions for five days, I think I didn't have to practice after that for two weeks!”

Pre-concert "ritual":

“I wouldn't say that I have any rituals ... [but] I do stretching, which helps to prepare the muscles to be more flexible on a performance ... hands and spine.”

Post-concert "ritual":

“It's important to hydrate.”

The Houston Symphony presents the program, Trifonov Plus Rachmaninoff, on Thursday, November 3, 8pm; Saturday, November 5, 8pm; and Sunday, November 6, 2:30pm at Jones Hall.

Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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