Daniil Trifonov is a world-class concert pianist, born in Russia in 1991. As a child, he was educated in Moscow at the Gnessin School of Music under Tatiana Zelikman, and he has continued studies in performance and composition in the US with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of music. He has been captivating audiences for a long time (for a 26-year old!) and has played with many of the great symphonies of the world, including my hometown Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Yesterday at Symphony Center, however, it was just the man and his piano. For me it was a last-minute excursion on a lazy Sunday. My lazy turned to restless, and at about 1:30 I decided to take advantage of living within walking distance to a variety of matinee performances down here in the Chicago Loop. Symphony Center’s was the second website I checked. I found Trifonov’s 3:00 pm program of Schumann, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky, bought the ticket, and headed out into an afternoon threatening rain.
The first half of the show was all Schumann – the first work in the program was series of 13 short pieces the 19th century great compiled into a work he entitled Kinderszenen, “scenes from childhood.” They range widely in expressive mood and were a captivating introduction to the program. The second piece was the show stopping Toccata in C Major, composed quite early in Schumann’s career, in 1829, while he wavered between law and composition as a profession. The program notes say Schumann thought it could be the “hardest piece ever written” for piano. It’s full of beautiful, twisting melodies, and Trifonov was in top form as he brought unbelievable technical precision and depth to the work. Going into the program I assumed the Toccata would be my favorite work (I knew nothing of the Shostakovich to come).
The final Schumann piece was Kreisleriana, one of the many works dedicated to his beloved Clara Wieck, the famous pianist, who would ultimately become his wife. The piece is tumultuous, emotional, raw and varied. According to the program notes, the work’s title comes from a character created by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Kappellmeister Kreisler. Hoffmann wrote about music, and this character he created was interested in music exclusively as a producer of emotional effect. The composition is surprisingly modern, for its 1838 date, hinting at romanticism and even abstraction. Yesterday’s program has me thinking of Schumann as the musical equivalent of the great English language writer William Blake – imaginative, allusive, and just a bit “out there.”
But for me the showstopper came immediately after intermission, when Trifonov bounded onto the stage and began playing selections from Shostakovich’s massive 1951 opus Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues. The work is inspired by Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, a cycle that contains a prelude and a fugue for every dominant key in the scale. The pieces the performer selected yesterday were captivating, subtle, raw, intricate, and unbelievably executed – I can truly say that I’ve never personally heard a piano played so well. Joyful, tearful, and triumphant – I was amongst the half of the patronage of Symphony Center that could not resist a mid-concert standing ovation at the completion of the work. Wow.
The concert ended with the Stravinsky composition Three Movements from Petruschka, the composer’s 1921 attempt to distill his seminal ballet into a work for piano. Powerfully percussive, it was a masterful finale. Trifonov followed it up with two encore pieces for the cheering crowd – one spritely and fun, the other complex but approachable – I know nothing more about the encore pieces.
The man sitting to my left was a similar last-minute concertgoer – though he had planned a bit further ahead, purchasing his ticket the day before. Our pre-concert banter revealed us to be kindred spirits, perfectly content heading unaccompanied to a concert. On the way out we commented that we chose very well – he said, “We’ll get to hear this guy develop for the next 50 years!” I’m rooting for both of us, though the fellow looked to be pushing 70! I suppose it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I stand a chance of watching this brilliantly gifted young pianist for the duration of his career. Here’s hoping.
With Symphony Center around the corner and lazy Sundays coming along relatively often, I think the pocketbook’s the limit as to what I might get up to in the future!
Thanks for reading.