I love Prokofiev’s music. His First Violin Concerto is perhaps the one most dear to me in the repertory (there’s some magic in it), and I think his music has incredible character. The orchestra had already learnt this music for a concert the previous semester (we took it on tour with us to Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava), so going into the production I felt very secure in meeting the musical demands of the work. The greatest challenge I expected was coordinating the orchestral part with the rest of the production. The prospect of being positioned somewhere in scaffolding was also a cause for concern, both in terms of the logistics of seeing our conductor, Michael Pratt, and for some, the chances of surviving the production. Fortunately, these problems were not as serious as expected. The string section was seated on the lower tier of the scaffolding so we were at the same level as the conductor, and from talking to the woodwinds (seated in the upper tier), seeing the conductor was not an issue. But I regretted not being able to see any of the play from the audience’s perspective.
The one piece that we had not included in our previous performance of this music was Kseniia’s song – a piece I found similar to Evfrosiniia Staritskaia’s song about a beaver in Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s film Ivan the Terrible. Reading Eisenstein’s “From Lectures on Music and Colour in Ivan the Terrible”, I was struck by his account of Prokofiev’s thoughtful approach to composing Staritskaia’s song – his attention to detail concerning the stresses on individual words, making sure that Eisenstein’s emotional objectives were achieved at every moment. I felt that this approach must have held for Kseniia’s song, in which the musical features seemed to support Kseniia’s mourning very accurately. The accompanying texture with its shifting harmony and lack of bass (two violas constitute the lowest string instruments of only six scored for this song) allows for the vocal line to seem distant, lost in another world. The remorse conveyed through the song closely follows the emotional contour of the text:
The second was the finale. This powerful, tumultuous, and unstoppable music (a simple C-minor melody over a throbbing, slowly intensifying arpeggio pattern) made my hair stand on end. The addition of the men’s chorus was particularly effective. The terrible scream that occurred when Feodor and Marina were assassinated did not seem at all out of place with the music we played. As the leader of my section, I was responsible for making sure we entered correctly, which required no small degree of contortions in order to see the conductor’s hands. Due to space restrictions, the set design and the requirements of the actors on the stage, there was no way of making this any easier.
One novel aspect of the performance was the brightly coloured wigs we wore for the Polish scenes. Although it was difficult not to feel somewhat ridiculous, I understood that given our location within and behind a large amount of scaffolding, such high-contrast colours were necessary to represent adequately the intended decadence of the Poles. Ultimately however, I felt privileged to be involved in this unique and memorable production..