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  • Writer's pictureIlona Oltuski

Cellist Mark Prihodko - Music Missionary Amidst the Void

If things had been going according to plan, Mark Prihodko, a gregarious young cellist hailing from Belarus, would have had his debut performance at Merkin Hall on March 31st, partnering with pianist Tatiana Goncharova. His recital, a much-anticipated highlight of his last semester at Juilliard, has been postponed until September, along with countless other scheduled concerts; only time will tell when it will be safe to reinstate activities and if audiences, difficult to entice even in the best of times, will venture out by then.

Amidst the lock-down of concert halls, with producers unable to promise valid conditions for an unknown period of time, shifted schedules and missed concerts create a special void for musicians, who struggle to maintain their motivation in the face of uncertainty and irrecoverable loss of income; many freelance performers, who were already hustling for limited performance opportunities before this crisis, are battling hardship.

Mark is personally served well in that he always had a fatalistic conviction to his life as a musician: “I did not have a choice,” he says, “growing up in Belarus, my home was dominated and populated by music and musicians. Mom a pianist, dad a cellist, they both taught me, and I naturally followed the path,” he says.

While being hit hard by the regrettable situation of lost momentum and motivational slumps, performing artists may still be among the best prepared for the spontaneity of last-minute plans, creative re-thinking, and the special challenge of solitude, required for practice on an everyday basis. “But,” he ventures, “this, of course, is an unprecedented crisis the artists face with a great amount of grief and all of its

psychological phases: denial, rage, acceptance — I am now perhaps entering the acceptance phase. We cannot change the situation; there is no choice but to adapt.”

Adapting to the new normal of course means to build a strong online presence, and to get on the bandwagon of makeshift recordings and online live streaming. “I had always been rather reluctant to follow the social media trend of self-promotion and posting videos of myself. I have never been fond of this sort of self-indulging activity,” he admits, and adds “I am also relatively new to the whole recording process; the dimension of the audience is missing sorely, for me.” See his "Live from Home' video clips here.

Ever since his birth on July 3 1997, Mark was immersed in the performance world, studying with legendary cello pedagogue Vladimir Perlin, who Mark holds responsible for “all [he is] as an artist.” From the first moment he was introduced to Perlin and his “cult like” studio, Mark absorbed a rigorously intertwined constellation of training and inspiration. “He just looked at my hands, looked at my parents, and agreed to take me on,” remembers Mark, going on to describe a very special environment, densely populated with teachers, professors, theater professionals, and artists within a fluid lifestyle of social and cultural creativity.

“Our music school was our life and surrounded all aspects of it. From 7:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening, the interaction with high-caliber musicians kept you engaged in a special atmosphere of musical existence. We would gather on the couch around my teacher, get some tea and would have to recite poems, which I hated at the time. But there was no opting out, there was great authority and we were required to memorize, make little drawings inspired by music we listened to and went on to acting and voice lessons; among many things, we listened to how famous singers phrased their lines and talked. We interacted constantly, practicing together, and were present in each other’s lessons. There was constant performing. We were living the life of performing artists, not just instrumentalists,” Mark says, as he describes this important phase of his upbringing.

Everything that followed was based on the skills and principles he absorbed under Perlin’s tutelage, until he was 14. “Basically, I have been a performing artist since the age of 8 or 9, performing all over the world,” he says, and given the maturity and decisiveness of his demeanor, it does not seem like an overstatement. “With Perlin having relationships with some of the finest international music festivals and celebrated artists, we collaborated on a regular basis with music legends like Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Ivry Gitlis, and Paul Badura-Skoda and naturally absorbed the skill to schedule rehearsals, play with an orchestra, and all facets surrounding the world of the stage. Onstage comportment was instilled in us from early on,” he says, which might explain his self-confidence and effortless stage presence.

Mark was 14 when he was invited to partake in a pre-conservatory program at the University of Minnesota. “I was coming from a totally different world, in which I felt independent, working with presenters and seasoned professionals, and here, at boarding school, everyone was treating me like a normal teenager,” he explains. “I had lived on my own since I was 12 years old and it did feel somewhat infantilizing. May to September I still spend at home and festivals in Europe, and I always longed to return to Moscow, where my mom lives,” he says. But his training under Tatyana Remenikova, a student of Rostropovich, led to an opportunity that prolonged his stay in the US.

When Mark was touring, performing at different venues around the United States, he also auditioned for the prestigious Juilliard School. Being awarded the elite Kovner fellowship, his tuition and cost of living were covered by the humanitarian award, sustaining the independent artistic performance life he so longed for next to his studies in New York.

It does not surprise that during his time at Juilliard, Mark pursued many original and wide-reaching initiatives. Stemming from his interest in cross-pollination between artistic fields, his endeavors aimed to connect contemporary music with visual art and dance.

Putting his international connections to work, Mark initiated and became the executive director of an artist collaborative coined ARTEMP Fest, which had its first installments in Minsk. After a successful first year run, it became difficult to keep up with the ambitious project that was supposed to take place on a monthly basis, connecting a Composer Academy with a broad spectrum of artistic outlets to feature their work.

Like ARTEMP, Mark’s Turkish-American Cultural Laboratory and a summer music festival Manhattan in the Mountains which he recently joined as a creative planner and member of its chamber music faculty, are further examples of Mark’s inspiring initiatives, which convince through an overarching artistic framework of international dimension.

Mark’s entrepreneurial leadership and tactical strategies, on which he is frequently invited to lecture, provide a personal brand of adopted American business models linked to his European artistic roots; he creates alliances and markers of cultural geography, turning him into a kind of music missionary.

“But now,” he says, “we all must learn yet a new skill: emulating a cyber version of us as the only way of sharing content. Whether it’s music performance, masterclasses, or anything else, it’s important to stay connected. I was very lucky to get hold of a good professional sound equipment, as I see many thousands of make-shift recordings around. The greatest artists are recording themselves on iPhones, and the quality often leaves much to wish for. It’s interesting to see how these recordings that are not mastered in a studio currently level the platform, and truly vast artistic differences are now showing more clearly than ever,” he comments.

With varying venues’ concerts quickly shifting online, artists around the world have proven their creativity and resolve to curate digital content, living room to living room. The National Orchestra of France recently undertook the impressive task of bringing their 50 musicians together from their homes, playing their individual parts from emailed scores. Promoting staying safe at home, one of the drummers used kitchen utensils.

The way in which the digital world has moved in the last decade, has weirdly prepared large concert operations, for the crisis. “Every art institutions, says  John Gilhooly, executive and artistic director of London’s Wigmore Hall in this informative interview with Chris Gunness, has the capacity to become its own broadcaster… it could be six months before we have live music again in the UK, and it’s a way of enhancing our brand and keeping in touch with our audiences.”

While the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra live streamed musical Passover greetings, with holiday songs performed from all corners of the country simultaneously by the orchestral musicians, Berlin’s Boulez Saal, livestreams its pre-recorded Intermission series, heavy sided on Barenboim content.

In New

Carnegie Hall shares its Live at Carnegie Hall content on social media and Lincoln Center invites audiences to stay home and watch a wide variety of daily programs.

Countless individual musicians around the globe offer the personal element of music making from their homes and Music based learning and entertainment is being created with the same vigilance, as major star-studded programs.

Suggesting that we are all in this together and connecting us through the genre-bending ( and star studded) world of music, One World: Together at Home, led by Lady Gaga in support of first-responders, allocated by the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund through Global Citizen and the World Health Organization, will air on multiple TV stations on April 18th and will be emceed by major network late-night hosts. Lang Lang will be one of its few classical proponents:”Tag someone you will be watching with,”he promotes on his Instagram feed.

So far, most music content has been offered for free, but performers are planning for dire financial times ahead. On social media, performers look to each other for mutual support of their YouTube channels, to reach the 1000-subscriber mark that enables them to monetize their content.

Internationally renowned Venezuelan born pianist/composer Gabriela Montero, expresses the mutual dilemma:” Yes, the world is paralyzed. We are all in the same boat, but for those of us who live from performing, how are we ever going to survive this? I am really, really worried.”

Reluctantly, also Mark succumbs to the trend, utilizing social media, which has proven extremely successful for some of the home streamers:

“Another week of quarantine, and yet another #livefromhome with a beautiful Catalan composer Gaspar Cassado. Préludio-Fantasia from his suite for cello solo. As usual free to share, and enjoy.”

Since March 12th, the renowned pianist Igor Levit, whose Twitter feed has long-featured his anti-fascist stance along with excerpts of the piano literature, live streams every evening—free of charge—if not from an official broadcast, usually from his home in Berlin.

With so much content, there is much room for thoughts about the true art of performance and what it takes to deliver convincingly. “Someone recently asked me during a round table discussion, how do you evaluate a great performance. I feel that in the moment I start to deconstruct elements and notice mechanical details, while listening to a performance, that is the moment I am not convinced musically. A great performance entails an emotional reaction, being blown away, in tears, totally submissive…only then I am not taking the performance apart, which is when the art dies and the science begins,” explains Mark. “In a great performance, I don’t want to feel like I am listening to a masterclass performance, it needs to be a sensation; even if I totally disagree on the interpretation, I need to be taken on this deeply personal journey.”

Democratizing the field with many young artists vigorously recruiting new audiences, the shift to life online may be a great temporary solution to remaining active, providing audiences with some entertainment, and more importantly, with some hope and emotional healing in these challenging times.

We do not, however, yet know what the effects of this crisis will be on concert life in the long run. “No doubt, the situation will have an impact and this crisis will act as a filter,” says Mark. “Many freelancers will not survive and give up, I can already see some purging impacts, as everybody needs to pay rent and feed the cat; we will see a lot of this, unfortunately. Only those who simply can’t see their lives without it, no matter the hardship, will survive in the performing arts field,” he states.

Like many artists, Mark has not always been free of doubts concerning his direction. “It’s part of being a musician, I think. You question, you search, sometimes you doubt and are considering giving up. It’s a spectrum, but it always led me back to having music in my life. Every situation is different, but I worry the crisis will have a vast impact on an industry that is already horribly stuck,” he feels.

His planned Merkin Hall Debut got postponed to December. Mark the date!

In the meantime, artists around the globe deserve our continued support and attention. Their devotion, their music making connects us to something bigger than ourselves; the eternity of our humanity. Even if not saving lives at the medical front line, artists carry an important message, not to be underestimated; it’s the message of hope for all of us, in the face of this difficult time.



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