Daniil Trifonov opened his LSO Artist Portrait series on Sunday 17 Feburary with one of the greats of the piano repertoire, Ravel's Piano Concerto. We caught up with Daniil to talk about the concerto, rock music, King Crimson and how Scriabin sparked his love of classical music.
So you're opening the series with the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major. What do you like about the composer's music?
Well, I really love the music of Ravel, especially his harmonic language. I haven’t had the chance to play so many of his works, but I love La valse and his Piano Concerto. This piece has the most incredible moments of chamber music – for example, in the second movement, the piano plays around the main theme with the horn. It also has a lot of jazz elements, which I like, and those influenced later concertos like Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto.
Would you say you’re a jazz fan? Do you have any favourite artists?
I wouldn’t say I know too much about jazz! But I really like listening to one of my favourite artists, Art Tatum, who is this jazz pianist who played in Cleveland for a long time. That was where I used to study, so I found out about him that way.
What else do you listen to, outside of classical music?
Outside of classical, I would say one of the most interesting experiences for me is listening to King Crimson, especially the early albums from the 1970s, like In the Court of the Crimson King and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. I really like their music, it’s very instrumental. My father used to be in a rock band too. He played keyboards in this underground band back in the 1980s when he was studying.
You weren’t ever tempted to pick up the drums or to play bass guitar?
I quite like the sound of the electric guitar but the furthest I’ve ventured from the piano is only an organ!
What do you do in your downtime?
I really enjoy hiking and walking. Especially in the mountains. I like to do long trips, say 10 to 30 kilometres in length. I was always interested in geography – I suppose that’s where it comes from. I enjoy exploring cities on foot, that’s one of my favourite activities while in London; I’m interested in the way cities are planned and laid out. I also sometimes do some light coding.
Like computer coding?
Yes, I like to tinker with technology, I guess. I think it’s actually quite a common thing for classical musicians to be interested in technology. Take the piano, the piano is probably the most complex acoustic musical instruments. It’s very interesting to change things and see how the technology works.
What advice would you give to an aspiring pianist at the outset of their career?
I would say that it’s good to explore, to go beyond just piano literature and understand that the piano does not exist in a vacuum. There are other arts and other musics. I think it’s very important to listen widely, to orchestral music and opera. Also to enjoy other art forms as well. Movies, literature, and of course painting – it all helps.
What sort of movies do you like?
Ah well, actually one of my favourite directors is Andrei Tarkovsky. He made only a few movies buts he has his own very unique language which is immediately recognisable. Many of his films are among my most favourite.
He's the same era as King Crimson right? Do you think there’s something about that era that you like particularly?
Yeah, 70s and 80s that’s right. I think it’s an era when people weren’t afraid to do unique things. There was so much variety in art and so many different directions and styles. Culturally it was an extremely abundant time.
If you had a friend who knew no classical music at all, which piece would you start them off with?
Well the question is also which era of classical music is best to start off with as well! If they already have some knowledge of the difference between the baroque, classical, and Romantic then it is best to pick something in the style that perhaps they might prefer.
But if the person hadn’t heard any classical music, I think it’s good to start with something unexpected. That could be a piece from the early 20th century, maybe something like Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy or one of Shostakovich’s symphonies. I’ve heard from people who have come to classical music for the first time to hear one of these pieces and they’ve said ‘oh, we didn’t imagine that it would be something like that.’ I guess if the person doesn’t know any classical music at all, I would want to choose something unexpected.
We have Francois Xavier-Roth conducting the Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy in March. It should be a great concert.
Ah nice. Well that’s the piece which started my love for classical music. I was already playing the piano when I first heard it. I was eleven I think. But once I did, I had Scriabin fever! I think that for the next five years I played more than half of the piano music that Scriabin wrote.
So if you imagine I am a potential audience member, and you only have a few seconds to convince me to come to the concert on 17 Feb, what would you say?
Well, the Ravel is one of the greatest concertos for Piano and it’s also one of the greatest examples of jazz in classical piano so if this person enjoyed the mixture of classical music and jazz, I think it’s a great combination.
Daniil Trifonov continues his LSO Artist Portrait series on Sunday 2 June, performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5 'Emperor' with Michael Tilson Thomas, plus a solo recital on Monday 10 June and an LSO Concert with Gianandrea Noseda on Sunday 16 June.