Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer
During a safari in South Africa, guest conductor Noam Zur sat helplessly in a Jeep when a rhinoceros came hurtling toward the vehicle. In that moment, he knew the next time he told an orchestra to play dangerously, he would draw on that moment to remember how real danger felt.
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform its last concert of the season tonight at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater. The concert will feature Zur conducting and guest pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Trifonov won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in 2011, the only first-prize winner since Alexander Gavrylyuk in 2005.
Zur and Trifonov worked together last year, performing the same Chopin concerto, which they chose again for tonight because of the CSO’s notoriously fast rehearsal time.
“The less rehearsal time you have, the more you have to pay attention when making the program,” Zur said. “On the other hand, American orchestras are famous for — and especially the festival orchestras — being extremely proficient.”
Zur said that although Trifonov is young, only 21 years old, he has already performed with some of the biggest orchestras and conductors in the industry.
“He’s a young talent, but he knows what he wants, and he’s very specific about it,” Zur said.
Trifonov said Zur is a very attentive and good-spirited conductor, who maintains a great attitude despite the complicated nature of Chopin’s second concerto.
The performance marks Zur’s North American conducting debut. Born to musical parents in Israel, Zur lived in Philadelphia for two years during high school.
“Music was always around when I was growing up,” Zur said. “I never thought that it would be my profession until I was about 13 or 14. That’s the first time I played in a youth orchestra — funnily enough, in Philadelphia.”
A trombonist at the time, Zur said he would often complain about the conductor in rehearsal and insist he could do the job better.
“At some point, the other colleagues of mine in the section said, ‘Well, either show it, or shut up.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll go and study conducting,’ ” Zur said. “And that’s the last answer they were expecting, but the rest is history.”
Zur attended Tel Aviv University where he majored in music and philosophy, and he has now guest conducted extensively in Israel and throughout Europe. His most recent engagements were with the Kammerphilharmonie Frankfurt, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra.
Trifonov also grew up in a musical family and was exposed to classical music from a young age. When one day his father brought home a synthesizer, Trifonov took to it immediately and began to compose music.
“That is how my parents decided that I should try to study piano,” Trifonov said, “and soon it became an obsession for me.”
In the 2010–2011 season alone, Trifonov won medals at three major international piano competitions, including the aforementioned Arthur Rubinstein Competition; a bronze medal at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw; and a gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Since 2009, he has studied piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music under Sergei Babayan.
“It was quite a challenge for me, having grown up in a totally different culture, to go study in a new country,” Trifonov said. “It became a fantastic experience for me, with constant discoveries and many new goals to reach.”
Trifonov also won the prize for best performer of a Chopin piece in the Arthur Rubinstein Competition, and he said Chopin has long been an essential composer for him. He credits his teachers for giving him a deeper understanding of what he called highly spiritual repertoire.
Chopin’s second piano concerto is soul-capturing, Trifonov described, full of interrogations and reveries.
“This concerto in particular is emotionally complex, with a great range of colors; probably one of the most poetic of Chopin’s works for me,” he said.
The second piano concerto falls in the middle of the concert. It opens with the overture to Die Fledermaus, an operetta by Johann Strauss Jr. Zur said it is a great opener, especially to the last concert of a symphony season.
“It’s something that’s always fun to conduct, always fun to play, always fun to listen to,” he said.
The concert closes with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a well-known staple in the orchestral repertoire arranged by Ravel.
Mussorgsky wrote the piece in memory of his friend and artist Victor Hartmann. After viewing an exhibition of Hartmann’s works after he died, Mussorgsky composed the piece in under six weeks. During the course of 10 movements, Mussorgsky evokes the experience of walking through a gallery of paintings and viewing each one individually.
“It’s a piece of music that has the story and the non-musical side already dictated, but on the other hand, in the end, it’s only a piece of music,” Zur said. “In the end, I still have to make a transition from E-flat major to B-flat major throughout the piece.”