San Francisco Symphony, Daniil Trofonov, Rachmaninoff

The Sibelius symphonies were lovely. Really. I shouldn’t downplay their performance. But… Now, let’s talk about what we really came to hear: Daniil Trofonov’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3!

Russian pianist Daniil Trofonov more or less slithered out onto the stage with his long straight hair covering his face. He never looked at the audience. He just walked directly to the piano and took a seat. I mean, this man never looked anywhere but down. He was a bit hunched over as he walked out. The entrance was most odd looking. He didn’t adjust his seating. He just more or less slid into the bench, again, rather hunched over, with his hair covering his face: waiting. Very odd. What in the world were we all in for?

I did’t know if he was completely in his own head space, is a crazed genius with no social skills at all, or if he was beyond exhausted. Maybe some mix of them all? But I did know that this was a very, very odd way to begin a performance. It wasn’t as if he attempted to connect to the audience at all. Maybe he thinks that’s our job: to connect to him while he channels the genius of Rachmaninoff. I had never seen anything like this before.

Daniil Trofonov
Daniil Trofonov

Additionally, having seen his photo in the program notes, the guy who showed up to play the piano looked absolutely nothing, nothing like the man in the photo. Now, I know people use Photoshop and Facetune and all, but I couldn’t find photoman in the guy on the stage at all, but then, no one had much seen his face yet. Would we ever?

Trofonov is young. Very young: mid twenties I think. (I mean, to be honest, this guy is just a kid, and I really don’t mean that in a negative way. It just makes what I’m about to tell you all the more astonishing.) In his photos he’s strikingly attractive. On stage? Well… not so much. But, really, who cares, because…

His performance was exceptional, brilliant, [insert your own effusively complimentary words here]: tiny and intimate beyond belief contrasted with enormously massive and expansive. His playing was technically masterful; though, I wished for a tiny bit more voicing of the high end.

Aside: I’ve noticed that I always wish for more voicing on the high end. Maybe it’s the Steinway in Davies hall that just doesn’t let the high notes soar and sing. They seem to too often get ever so slightly hidden by the muddier midtones of the instrument. (And Rachmaninoff scored a heck of a lot of midtones!) Maybe it’s my hearing as I get older?

Anyway, we had great seats (Box G), and I could both see and hear very well. The orchestra/piano balance was perfect. Oddly, Trofonov’s fingertips seemed to curve upward, rather atypical for a pianist, yet this in no way seemed to hamper the facility of his performance.

Ah! This was without any doubt a stunning, brilliant performance. It was youthful yet mature, vigorous, and robust. The simple melodies were intimate, delicate but never fragile. The internal motion that infuses that haunting main theme directly into the human heart was flawlessly rendered into this world. My god, he had total command of this horrifically difficult piece. Glorious!

As usual, MTT and the orchestra were at the top of their game, and the conclusion of this performance savagely and without apology ripped the audience from its seats. This performance was music making at its finest!

Daniil TrofonovAgain, as the audience went rabid with applause, Trofonov quickly and rather awkwardly bowed without looking at the audience and spent most of his bowing time facing and thanking the symphony. MTT hugged the young man at the start of the applause. It really was a brilliant performance. I noticed that MTT has conducted other performances with this pianist and other symphonies this year.

Daniil was forced to return to the stage several times, and each time he directed almost all of his bows to the symphony. He just didn’t appear to like to see the audience. Or, maybe he did, but with his long flopping hair one could hardly see that he did. He tossed off a traditional little encore and was done.

Even when you could see his face, I swear he looked nothing like his photos. See for yourself. I shot this photo on his second return to applause. Does that look anything like the promotional photos earlier in this post?

Daniil Trofonov and The San Francisco Symphony
Daniil Trofonov and The San Francisco Symphony

I looked him up online. He has one photo on his website that looks like the guy we saw tonight. His hair is now considerably longer (photo above) than in the photo below. Apparently, he’s a man of many varied looks. Here it is.

Daniil Trofonov
Daniil Trofonov

His performance schedule and repertoire for the next 6 months is unspeakably monstrous! He will be performing all 4 of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerti, several other concerti by various composers including one of his own concerto compositions, some small ensemble works with various performers (including my favorite young solo cellist, Gautier Capuçon), and a full length recital all over the world. It’s a vigorous schedule of massive repertoire. My god, who can keep that much repertoire under their fingers for performance at a moment’s notice?! Is he even human or some Marvel super human?!

If you can see this young man perform, I highly recommend doing so! Mind blowing.

This young performer is beyond a musical beast. And this stupendous performance was a spectacular way to end the 2017 – 2018 San Francisco Symphony season! Superb! What a glorious, glorious delight!