Trifonov triumphs over his bedazzled Princeton audience

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

Grammy-Award winning, internationally famous pianist Daniil Trifonov thrilled Princeton audiences on June 7, 2024. He played George Gershwin’s Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra with Conductor Xian Zhang leading the New Jersey Symphony in Princeton University’s beautiful, historic Richardson Auditorium.

The evening, entitled “Daniil Trifonov Plays Gershwin,” also included Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, by Gershwin, arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, and Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Autumn Days and Nights, a world Premiere commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony. As is their custom, the New Jersey Symphony played the same program in New Brunswick, Red Bank, and Newark, all within several days of their appearance at Princeton. It is, in and of itself, a magnificent achievement.

Gershwin (1898-1937) wrote his operatic masterpiece Porgy and Bess in 1935. In 1942, according to the program notes by Laurie Schulman, conductor Fritz Reiner asked composer Robert Russell Bennett to write a symphonic suite of Porgy and Bess incorporating Gershwin’s immortal songs, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime.” and others. The piece was played with brio and nuance, totally delighting the packed house.

The New Jersey Symphony’s Resident Artistic Catalyst Daniel Bernard Roumain presented his world premiere, commissioned work Autumn Days and Nights. Introducing his work using a microphone from the stage, he spoke of his work, which is a celebration of Blackness based upon Haitian folk music (celebrating also, Taino cultures), the Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”), African-American spirituals, and his own version of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” 

Both works so far had been played with an uncanny lustre and sheen by the expert musicians, and by their expert and effervescent conductor Xian Zhang. This continued to be true for the second half of the program.

My first experience with the Gershwin concerto was an old LP featuring the pianist Werner Haas, with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart on Philips. Anyone hearing it would have had the experience impressed indelibly onto their brain, and, so, expectations were high about hearing it live many decades later.

The tempestuous, international star Daniil Trifonov was the piano soloist for Gershwin’s Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra (1925)As intoxicating as it may be to listen to his pianism on recordings or simulcasts, it is another to hear him live, to experience the music with one’s own eyes and ears live on stage. Gershwin’s masterpiece breathes jazz fire, and jazz cool, woven skilfully throughout by this Jewish-American Master. Both soloist and orchestra performed brilliantly, arousing its audience to jump to their feet at the end of the piece and bathe soloist, conductor, and orchestra in tidal acclaim. Mr. Trifonov gifted us with an encore, hoping to appease his frenzied audience; and he succeeded.

The New Jersey Symphony season may be over, but a new season is on the horizon. For information, subscriptions, and venues, visit .

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