“Just Epic!” Daniil Trifonov and the NJSO LIVE! at MPAC
By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery
It’s a brisk Sunday, January 8, 2023 afternoon as music lovers make their way inside Morristown, NJ’s MPAC for a concert by classical piano virtuoso Daniil Trifonov and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Xian Zhang.
Daniil Trifonov was born in the Soviet Union on March 5, 1991. His father was a composer and his mother worked as a music teacher. Daniil began studying the piano at age five and gave his first solo concert at seven. At the age of eight, he gave his first concert with an orchestra where he performed a Mozart concerto and lost one of his baby teeth in the process.
In 2000, Trifonov’s family moved so that Daniil could study music in Moscow. There, he borrowed piano recordings from his teacher and learned important lessons in technique and style by listening to the work of piano masters including Sergei Rachmaninoff and Vladimir Horowitz. In 2009, Trifonov came to the United States to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
At the age of 17, Daniil won First Prize at the International Piano Competition of San Marion, where he also received a special prize for his performance of a Chick Corea composition. He followed up by becoming a medalist at the distinguished International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. In 2011, Trifonov won First Prize at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, and just weeks later, took First Prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Trifonov made his Carnegie Hall debut in February, 2013 in a concert recorded and released by Deutsche Grammophon. In 2016, he was the winner of Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year, and in 2018, he won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Solo Album for his recording, Transcendental, a double album of Liszt compositions. In 2019, Trifonov was named the New York Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence for the 2019–2020 season, and was also named Musical America’s Artist of the Year.
Inside the MPAC auditorium, members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra warm up on stage. After the musicians tune their instruments, Daniil Trifonov and Xian Zhang enter, bow, and ready themselves to perform today’s first piece: Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto №2 in B-flat major.
The opening movement, Allegro non troppo, begins with a beautiful French horn call which is accompanied by Trifonov on the piano playing softly, sweetly, and gently. The orchestra joins in and Trifonov leads the way playing hand-over-hand, quickening the pace with the orchestra’s regal entrance.
Zhang’s baton leads the interplay between the instruments as they dance along with the piano. At times, the low strings play along with the piano, Trifonov lightly and gently caressing the keys while alternating with powerful chords before ending the movement with a flourish.
Trifonov continues to perform while the mood changes during the Allegro appassionato. Majestic sounds ring out from the orchestra as Trifonov moves while boldly playing from memory. His expert touch and skill compliment the NJSO as piano and orchestra weave a tapestry comprised of the glorious sounds of Brahms.
The third movement, Andante, starts with the low strings as the legato higher strings float above them. Trifonov’s expert playing adds a melancholy voice that soon takes over as orchestra members listen in waiting. Music lovers in the audience are enveloped by the sound that surrounds them, some listening with their eyes closed as the music touches their souls with calm and then intrigue.
The pace quickens for the Allegro grazioso — Un poco più presto, a movement that dances ever so lightly with string runs and piano chords that bounce as the piece cycles through with grace and artistry. Plucking strings and lilting piano runs create movement and dynamic swells which build in speed and intensity as Trifonov and the NJSO bring the performance to its sweeping conclusion.
Audience members stand and shout, “Bravo!” as Trifonov and Zhang shake hands before bowing to the audience.
Trifonov leaves the stage but returns to perform an encore with NJSO principal cellist, Jonathan Spitz. Spitz takes the lead on the slow movement of the Cello Sonata in G Minor by Chopin.
Melancholy, sweet, and almost mournful in nature, the interplay between the two musicians on the piece is palpable, breathing together as they perform in sync with one another on this expressive composition.
After the pair shakes hands at the end, the crowd stands once more and Trifonov takes multiple bows.
Following a short intermission, Zhang and the NJSO return to perform the symphonic poem, Don Juan, by Richard Strauss. Like a ballet for the ears, the orchestra dances as the musicians play this dreamy and noble piece.
Zhang moves like a dancer with her baton as she pulls and pushes the sound from the NJSO musicians who follow her lead and spin magic from their talented hands.
As the composition progresses, excitement increases as the orchestra resonates triumphantly and the audience responds with large applause at the end.
For the afternoon’s final number, Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, also by Richard Strauss, horns call, woodwinds sound, and the stringed instruments swell on this operatic piece. Moving into a series of waltzes, the music evokes visions of dancing couples as the melody whirls and swirls, light as a feather. The orchestra soars and drums roll before this lyrical composition ends in the form of a grand waltz which echoes the sound of a romantic carnival.
The crowd cheers and shouts, “Bravo!” while Zhang stands and smiles broadly.
As concertgoers make their way out of the auditorium, we chat with several music lovers who share their thoughts on this afternoon’s performance. Declares Adele from Morristown, “I loved this concert! I’ve been coming to see the NJSO since 1968. It’s so good to hear classical music the way it should be played, and I particularly liked the encore that Daniil Trifonov did.”
Remarks Daniel from West Caldwell, “This is my third time seeing Daniil Trifonov — I saw him twice with the New York Philharmonic — and I appreciate how he makes everything perfectly beautiful,” explaining, “He’s in complete control.” Alexander from East Hanover agrees, noting, “He is exceptional — wonderful — and the orchestra performed extremely well, too. ”
Comments Liam from Parsippany, “This was my first time hearing the New Jersey Symphony and I really enjoyed their performance. Daniil Trifonov was very energetic, and I especially liked how he moved while he was playing.” Kelsie from Parsippany concurs, noting, “The music was beautiful, and also difficult,” explaining, “I play piano myself so I can appreciate how hard the Brahms Concerto is to play.”
Kelley, a musician from East Elmhurst, reveals, “Each year, I come to see as many New Jersey Symphony concerts as I can,” commenting, “Daniil Trifonov is incredible and his playing is so exciting there were times it seemed like he was flying out of his chair! His phrasing is exquisite and he makes everything look effortless,” prior to noting, “Xian Zhang’s energy was just incredible, too! Don Juan is such a difficult piece to play, and the last Strauss piece, Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, made me feel so much.” Alex, a clarinet student from Warren, agrees, exclaiming, “That last piece had such a great ending!” before concluding, “I like all kinds of music and this whole concert was just epic!”
To learn more about Daniil Trifonov, please go to daniiltrifonov.com. For info on future NJSO programming, click on njsymphony.org. For information on upcoming performances at Morristown’s MPAC — including the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine on Feb. 16, Piano Battle with Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis on April 22, and the NJSO’s Symphonie Fantastique on April 30 — please go to mayoarts.org.