Perseid and Prokofiev

Perseid and Prokofiev

Photo: Pekka Kuusisto, who will perform Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Minnesota Orchestra on our European tour.

I don't know about you, but I fully intended to get out of bed at 3:30 am last week to see the Perseid meteor showers. How well did I do? Well, two or three shooting stars after dinner one night, and perhaps one more through my bedroom window when a car horn went off at 4am.

But closer to home, sparks were flying with abandon at Orchestra Hall on Tuesday night. This was the Tour Send-off concert. There wasn't an empty seat, and yet it felt as if we were in a room together with a group of close friends, sharing an intimate moment: our mutual love of some extraordinary music and an ardent pride in the life that flourishes in Minnesota.

It was one of those evenings that feels entirely impromptu, yet succeeds only because of the great thought that goes into it. Included were a preview of the Stephen Stucky work we will play in Amsterdam and Copenhagen; Beethoven's 5th, that linchpin of orchestral repertoire and Minnesota Orchestra discography; and—to honor the recent death of Finnish composer Rautavaara—the short, memorable second movement of his Cantus Arcticus. Then two lusty Brahms Hungarian Dances for encores.

But for me, this time, it was the Prokofiev Violin Concerto that made me silently weep. I confess that I am a poor student of musicology. (I look forward to rectifying that in my next life.) Now, as I travel to Helsinki and look out at the night sky, those astonishing harmonies will be playing in my mind. I can hear the quirky immediacy of Pekka Kuuisto's phrasing.

How is it that a work of music can elicit such longing, such personal humanity? No one has a harmonic ear as sophisticated and surprising as Prokofiev's. This could be the bleak Russian landscape of Pushkin, the hopes and worries of a post World War II baby-boomer, or the uncertainty of a Millennial. Or a map of the stars we long to understand.

Where did he find a language of such curiosity and tenderness: concise, deeply complex, and moving? How did he put all that on the page, for us to make manifest in the concert hall?

Of course, every performance is a world unto itself, but—as I get ready to play Prokofiev in Lahti—I am convinced that, if the stars could speak, this is what they would say.

Marcia Peck

Cellist Marcia Peck has been a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1971. She is also an award-winning fiction writer who has received two Minnesota State Arts Board Artists Fellowships. Her essays have been published in Minnesota Orchestra at One Hundred and the Orchestra’s program magazine, Showcase. Read her full biography »