Piano virtuoso Daniil Trifonov finds freedom in the score 

click to enlarge Award-winning pianist Daniil Trifonov plays with the Russian National Orchestra in San Francisco this week. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Award-winning pianist Daniil Trifonov plays with the Russian National Orchestra in San Francisco this week.

Daniil Trifonov, 2011 winner of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, appears in San Francisco this week. Today, the 21-year-old will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the visiting Russian National Orchestra. The program also includes works by Tchaikovsky and Verdi.

At what age did you realize that your musical abilities were perhaps a bit unusual?

When I was 13 years old, I broke my left hand while falling and I couldn’t play the piano for three weeks. It was absolute torture for me. Basically, this wasn’t a moment about realizing technique or other things, but about how important music was to me. It was so uncomfortable and so stressful to not be able to play.

Please describe the experience of winning the Tchaikovsky competition.

You know, I worked and worked, and it was a great feeling to be appreciated by the jury. Of course, competitions of such a level give a lot of opportunities: There are collaborations with major orchestras, management in Asia, in Europe, in the U.S., etc. At a competition like the Tchaikovsky, you are not playing just for the audience in the hall. This is a chance for you to show your approach to music and your own self to the world.

Has your practice routine changed over the years? I now practice up to eight hours a day.

A few days ago, I went up to nine hours. I would not recommend this, because there is the next morning; you cannot feel normal the next day. There is a balance that you have to keep, and I think six hours — anything between five to seven — works for me. I cannot afford myself more than one day of not practicing, and usually that one day is for traveling.

Is it possible for great performers to surpass the vision of the composer they are performing?

If you take Rachmaninoff’s recordings, he was always changing the interpretations of his own works. He does many things that are not written in his own score. Sergei Babayan, my teacher, told me that he’s seen Rachmaninoff’s writing in the score, how he’s even changed hands in certain passages!

The composer’s editions and his markings should not actually be a prison for your musical fantasies. Of course, you need to respect them, but you also need to see and understand the reasons. It is not to manipulate the score, but you need to find the emotional and spiritual meaning for the markings. There is a lot of freedom in the score.

Daniil Trifonov and the Russian National Orchestra

Presented by the San Francisco Symphony

  • Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. today
  • Tickets: $34 to $93
  • Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

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Elijah Ho

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