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Friday, November 30, 2012

Concert Review: New Sounds from the Old School

Steven Stucky's Symphony has its New York premiere.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The composer Steven Stucky. His new Symphony had its New York premiere last night. 
Photo by Nicola Kountopes© 2005 Cornell University/University Photography.
Yesterday, the New York Philharmonic announced a two-year plan, (starting in 2017) to renovate Avery Fisher Hall, rebuilding the venue's auditorium while leaving the façade intact. That news (see, I got it in!) threatened to overshadow the fact that last night marked the first New York performance of Steven Stucky's Symphony, a work co-commissioned by the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics.

Although it bears no number, this is technically Mr. Stucky's fifth--with the earlier works written in his twenties and currently withdrawn from publication. He requires a large orchestra to produce conventional, tonal sounds. Symphony is twenty minutes, consisting of four continuous movements. The sections have cool English titles instead of traditional movement names.

Introduction and Hymn featured impressive playing from the Philharmonic wind soloists, as their single melodic lines coalesced to form paragraphs of musical thought, answered by soft, solemn brass chords from the horns and trombones. Alan Gilbert let the theme develop, his extravagent gestures creating an arch of sound that would do a late Romantic proud.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opera Review: Statue, With Limitations

Don Giovanni returns to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Want to switch?" Don Giovanni (Ildar Abdrazakov, l.)  negotiates with Leporello (Erwin Schrott, r.) 
in Act I of Don Giovanni. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Wednesday night, the Metropolitan Opera revived Michael Grandage's 2011 production of Don Giovanni, which sets the action against a curved, sliding wall of louvered doors that (to this writer) recalls the façade of certain seedy motels in Wildwood, New Jersey. The show's biggest success:  Ildar Abdrazakov, whose bellowing, hyper-testosteroned take on the title character made him an energetic and charismatic leading man.

This reviewer saw Mr. Abdrazakov's Don a few months ago. He still purrs and fawns during "La ci darem la mano" and achieves a manic glee in the Champagne Aria. He still prowls with a catlike presence and charisma. And he remains compelling in the Damnation Scene, going (quite literally) down in flames as he bellows his last notes at the statue. (Note on that effect: although it was a major talking point of this new production last year, it (along with the rest of this staging) has outworn its welcome.) If anything, the Russian bass seemed more restrained in this show, toning down the excesses and working within the context of the ensemble.

In this cast, Erwin Schrott moves from singing the Don to Leporello. As the put-upon servant, the  bass-baritone seemed to yearn for his old role: macking on the ladies instead of carrying the catalogue. He undermined his performance repeatedly, with comic mugging and repeated attempts to one-up Mr. Abdrazakov. However, his Catalogue Song sparked the first act, bringing a sluggish opera to life The Act Two "seduction" scenes with Donna Elvira (Emma Bell) were a comic highlight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Superconductor Interview: Angela Meade

A conversation with the next queen of bel canto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"I don't read blogs." Soprano Angela Meade in Ernani.
Photo by Marty Sohl, © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
"The essence of a great bel canto opera is beautifully written melodies that seem extremely organic." Soprano Angela Meade should know. In the last five years, Ms. Meade has taken the spotlight as a bel canto specialist, reviving this lost operatic form (the phrase is Italian for "beautiful song") for a new generation of opera lovers.

"There's something in a line that's written," she says. "You can tell what someone's soul is saying," she adds. "It's not just notes on a page. I think that the essence is those emotions. With singing, I express who I am."

She took time to talk to Superconductor in the midst of preparations for a new role, the title part in Vincenzo Bellini's rarely played Beatrice di Tenda. (It's  never been staged at the Metropolitan Opera.) This performance will be a concert presented by the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall on December 5. The Chorale is featured along with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Bagwell.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Opera Review: The Princess Diaries

The singers trump the sets (for once) in the Met's latest Aida.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Aida (Liudmila Monastyrska, l.) emotes as Amneris (Olga Boridina) glowers in the Met's
latest revival of Verdi's Aida. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Since 1988, Sonja Frisell's over-the-top Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi's Aida has been a house favorite. Tourists and opera lovers flock to see the sandstone walls, white-and-gold costumes and spectacular depictions of Ancient Egypt, inspired by the Temple of Dendur at that other Met across town. But thanks to some questionable casting decisions in recent years, the show's big set pieces tend to supersede what is essentially an intimate drama against a huge backdrop.

All that changed Monday night with this current revival, boasting the talents of Liudmila Monastyrska in the title role. This run marks the Ukrainian soprano's house debut as the Ethiopian princess. For once, listeners could look forward to "Ritorno vincitar." The Act I monologue/aria was sung as intended, with a smooth legato and limpid tone that floated above the stilled orchestra.

Things got better from this encouraging start. Ms. Monastyrska won the audience in her Act II confrontation with Amneris even as her character sunk into self-pity. She sliced cleanly through the big ensembles in the Triumph Scene, underlining Aida's plight. Best of all was Act III, where she dominated the banks of the Nile. "O patria mia" presented with the climactic high notes sung, not shrilled.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Concert Review: From Familiar Composers, Unfamiliar Sounds

Christian Zacharias conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On Friday afternoon at Symphony Hall, Christian Zacharias conducted from the keyboard.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2012 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In the modern classical music world, programming a weekend concert exclusively with the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven can lead to accusations of conservatism or (worse yet) pandering to the taste of an audience whose age has gone up even as their tolerance for "modern" music (anything written in the last 100 years) has gone down.

However, as Friday's afternoon concert at Symphony Hall proved, the choice to bring back German pianist-conductor Christian Zacharias proved a wise one. For this concert, Mr. Zacharias dug deeply into the vast catalogues of these three composers, crafting an appealing program from some of their least-performed compositions.

This was the BSO's first performances ever of Haydn's Symphony No. 76, a work that falls between his fertile Sturm und Drang period and the late compositions which thrilled audiences in Paris and London. This is Haydn at the height of his powers as a spinner of inventive, constantly changing melodies laced with ease and good humor. Mr. Zacharias led a crisp performance, with the Boston players sounding as if this was a symphony that was part of their regular repertory.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Before We All Get Stuffed....

Happy Thanksgiving from Superconductor!
Thanksgiving preparations at the Simpson house.
Image framegrabbed from The Simpsons, Episode 7F07, Bart vs. Thanksgiving.
© 1990 Gracie Films/FOX.
Hopefully, dear readers, you are either

  • waking up in a household of loved ones
  • traveling (safely) from point A to point B this morning
  • getting ready to watch the Lions stomp the Cowboys (hey, it could happen!)
  • or watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Commercial-fest. 
Anyway, happy Thanksgiving, and please accept the thanks of this (not so) humble classical music  journalist for reading Superconductor and helping to make it a recognized name for quality classical music coverage.

We have some exciting stuff planned, including excursions to Boston and Philadelphia as well as reviews from the Metropolitan Opera rush line and Family Circle. So after you read this, go have a fabulous and hopefully music-filled Thanksgiving holiday. We'll be right back here tomorrow with more...stuff.

All best,

Paul J. Pelkonen,
Editor,
Superconductor.

In the spirit of the holiday, here is the third movement from Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 132. Yep, it's the Heiliger Dankgesang.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Concert Review: No Turkeys At All

Andrey Boreyko conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Thanksgiving guest: conductor Andrey Boreyko.
Photo by Susanne Diesner © 2012 Tonhalle Orchester Zurich.
The New York Philharmonic adjusted their concert schedule for Thanksgiving week, allowing the players to enjoy time with their families (and not having to rehearse a new piece for the weekend concerts. As a result, last night's concert was a rarity: a new program premiered on a Tuesday. (The program will repeat Nov. 23, 24 and 27, with a Saturday matinee also featuring the New World Symphony.)

The concert, conducted by Andrey Boreyko opened with a rarity from Mendelssohn's vast (and underplayed) catalogue. Specifically, this was the charming, witty Overture to Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde ("Son and Stranger") one of the light operas Mendelssohn wrote to be played by his friends and family.

Mr. Boreyko's interpretation ull of the melodic life and joy one associates with this composer. A slow introduction was followed by a brisk middle section, with the introduction coming back as a brief, quizzical reprise at the very end.

The orchestra was then joined by Frank Peter Zimmermann for a performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. From the keening, mournful melodic line of the slow first movement, which bends and unwinds itself at a leisurely pace, this was playing of the highest level from last year's Artist-in-Residence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Opera Review: It's a Gutter Ballet

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Wozzeck at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Simon Keenlyside sang Wozzeck at Lincoln Center.
On Monday night, Esa-Pekka Salonen led a concert performance of Alban Berg's Wozzeck, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra and Simon Keenlyside in the title role. Although played in a concert setting, the singers eschewed music stands, playing out the drama in front of the orchestra in a narrow, claustrophobic acting space along the lip of the stage in Avery Fisher Hall.

Berg's opera is a study in contrasts. To set Woyzeck, the sprawling, chaotic play by Georg Büchner that is the opera's source material, the composer relied on an absolute, rigid use of forms. The first act is composed as a suite, with each short scene forming a dance movement of sorts. The second is a miniature symphony of despair. For the work's apocalyptic last act Berg created a series of "Inventions," with each scene based on a different type of musical element.

This rigorous approach paved the way for twelve-tone composition and the serialism that followed, but each piece of math music has its own radiant inner beauty. Mr. Salonen conducted a burly reading of the score that highlighted the chamber-like details and witty parodies that lie buried in this brilliant work. Compressing the three acts into a tight 95 minutes, he drove the performance with deadly precision, allowing the luminous moments in the score their own chances to shine.

Mr. Keenlyside, fresh from his run as Prospero in the Met's new production of The Tempest lay down his staff for Wozzeck's knife, inhabiting the soldier's madness for a harrowing three acts. Indeed, his Wozzeck seems unbalanced from the first few moments, jittering and twitching in the fields with Andreas, and barely interacting wih Marie and their child, here played by empty air.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Concert Review: Checking the Baggage

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Mahler's Ninth. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo by Mat Hennek © Deutsche Grammophon
It's not every day that a familiar conductor can present a well-known and well-loved repertory symphony in such a way that the listener hears it with fresh ears. But that's exactly what happened Sunday at Avery Fisher Hall, when Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen led the Philharmonia Orchestra in Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

No other symphony has the baggage of the Mahler Ninth. It's the composer's last completed work. Mahler did not live to hear it played. And the opening, descending dotted rhythm phrase that forms the motto of the entire 90-minute symphony was associated (by Leonard Bernstein, no less) as representing the composer's own damaged, faltering heart.

That's quite a legacy. However, in performing ths symphony on Sunday night, Mr. Salonen chose to lay sentiment aside. He took a clear, assured approach which offered the audience new inroads into the mysteries of these four strange movements. Throughout, this performance had a clarity of texture in the strings. The Philharmonia horns sounded noble and mournful, but not over-wrought.

Opera Review: Goggles, Gears and Genocide

Opera Moderne returns with Der Kaiser von Atlantis.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The cast of Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Bohemian Hall. Vincent B. Vincent
(center) stars as the Emperor Overall. Death (Jeffrey Tucker) is at right.
Photo by Sara L. Gamarro © 2012 Opera Moderne.
Viktor Ullmann's Der Kaiser von Atlantis is a work with a most painful genesis. It was written in Theresienstadt, the Nazis' "show" concentration camp where Ullmann was an inmate along with his librettist Peter Kien. Using a chamber orchestra of whatever instruments were available (including ad banjo!) they created a one-act, one-hour show: a bold lampoon of Hitler and the German idea of "total war."

The opera was cancelled when the SS learned of its subject matter. Ullmann and Kien were sent to Auschwitz and killed.

However, their collaboration survived, coming to light in 1975. Since then, the work has had a number of productions in Europe, but only a few in America. This is a short, difficult one-act work which requires serious vocal talent to bring off. And while Kaiser is not difficult to stage, its unique history and back-story make it difficult to pair with another short opera.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Opera Review: A Snake in the (fake) Grass

Juilliard and the Met collaborate on Cosí fan tutte.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Fiordiligi (Emalie Savoy) attempts to elude Ferrando (Matthew Lewis) in Juilliard's Così fan tutte.
Photo by Nan Melville © 2012 The Juilliard School/The Metropolitan Opera.
Stephen Wadsworth's handsome new production of Così fan tutte, the latest collaboration between Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera is set in a claustrophobic garden. Looming, convent-like walls trap the participants in Mozart's "school for lovers." Significantly, the doors are locked. Occasionally, Don Alfonso (Evan Hughes) the perpetrator of this experiment in spit and partner swapping peers over the walls, to check how his subjects are getting along.

This production (seen at the Nov. 17 matinee at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater) is a sequel (of sorts) to Mr. Wadsworth's Juilliard Don Giovanni, seen at the conservatory last Sprig. Charlie Corcoran has again mounted the comic action in a series of handsome, receding picture frames that provide entrances and exits. Nature-images abound, from the (working) water pump, the grassy (AstroTurf) carpet, and the large orange tree that dominates the scene.

Given the plot of Così, the last collaboration between Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, one expects a serpent to slither out and bite the dunder-headed protagonists, two young soldiers who swap their partners, (a pair of sisters) to prove their fidelity and win a bar bet. The cynicism of the libretto and question-mark ending can sometimes leave an audience feeling downright queasy, despite the glittering music.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Opera Review: A Conspiracy of Voices

The Met presents La Clemenza di Tito.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Reposted from The Classical Review.
Crumbling majesty: Giuseppe Filianoti as Titus in La Clemenza di Tito.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Friday, the Metropolitan Opera opened the second of three Mozart revivals this month with La Clemenza di Tito. This performance featured a strong young cast dominated by Giuseppe Filianoti in the title role and the flexible mezzo of Elina Garanca as Sesto, the best friend of the Roman emperor Titus turned would-be assassin.

Read the whole review by Superconductor's own Paul J. Pelkonen, exclusively on The Classical Review.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Concert Review: The Human Touch

Pierre-Laurent Aimard in recital at Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Piano man: Pierre Laurent-Aimard and friend.
Image © 2012 Universal Classics/Deutsche Grammophon. 
Go to enough piano recitals and you learn that the major artists working today on the concert circuit differ themselves by touch: the sound made from the particular combination of muscle movements in depressing the key of a black Steinway. Thursday night's Carnegie Hall recital, featuring French soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, was all about touch, with major works by Debussy and Schumann flanking a more modern composition by Heinz Holliger.

The performance opened with the second book of Preludes by Debussy. Before Debussy, a cycle of Preludes was the composer's opportunity to show his command of tonal organization, usually starting at the "home" key of C Major and moving around the different tonalities to create a homogeneous set of works that illustrated different colors of the instrument.

Debussy's Preludes break the mold, starting with the bitonal Brouillardsand engaging in a series of fascinating tone poems. Mr. Aimard shifted gears continuously, from the habañera rhythms of La Puerta del Vino to the hopping, deliberately awkward rhythms of General Levine. Ondine provided contrast again in its bold, swelling arpeggios, played with liquid ease and careful pedal-work.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Concert Review: Countdown to Ecstasy

The Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Franz Welser-Möst (on the podium) leads the Cleveland Orchestra.
A visit to New York by the Cleveland Orchestra is always anticipated. On Tuesday night, Franz Welser-Möst and the orchestra that he has directed for 11 years offered Carnegie Hall listeners a program designed to challenge and expand their musical horizons, combining Beethoven with works by Alexander Scriabin and a New York premiere by  contemprary composer Matthias Pintscher.

The concert opened with Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. This sunny work was unusually somber in the hands of Mr. Welser-Möst. The conductor took an expansive approach to the first movement in a seeming effort to elevate the piece to a new level of Beethovenian heroism. The effect was to make this bucolic, energetic music strangely somber in tone, an interpretation that was bold and individual, but strange to the ear.

The slow second movement was more elegaic, with a tense, springing rhythm in the low strings from which the main theme slowly unwound. The brass and wind playing here was very fine, underlining Beethoven's rhythmic message. Mr. Welser-Möst found the Dionysian spirit in the second half of the work, in the famous, Haydn-esque minuet and the Mozartean last movement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La clemenza di Tito

The Met revives Mozart's last opera seria.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Giuseppe Filianoti (center) sings the title role in the Met's revival of La clemenza di Tito.
Photo © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's La clemenza di Tito represents the composer's final effort in the genre of opera seria, the overwhelmingly popular style of the 18th century that drew thematic inspiration and its plots from the events and myths of classical antiquity. Composed in a rush of notes (Mozart had less than three months) for the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II as the new king of Bohemia, the opera shares some parallels with Mozart's last opera, Die Zauberflöte.

The story of Tito makes the Roman emperor Titus out to be a mensch. Its source: an old libretto by Metastasio, based on an incident mentioned in Suetonius's Lives of the Roman Emperors. Tito (Giuseppe Filianoti) responds to a failed assassination attempt by forgiving the assassin. This was librettist Domenico Guardasoni's attempt to encourage Leopold to show similar clemency. The opera was finished in three months, just in time for the coronation. its premiere took place one hour after Leopold took the throne.

Alas, Leopold died six months later, so history never got a chance to find out what a nice guy he might have been.

Although the part of the emperor requires a powerful tenor, the key role of this opera is Sesto, the would-be assassin. The part, written for a virtuoso castrato, requires a mezzo-soprano of power and flexibility, capable of showing a wide range of emotion. Elina Garanča rises to the challenge in a role she has sung to great acclaim in Vienna. Also in on the plot: Vitellia, sung by soprano Barbara Frittoli. This is yet another revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's sturdy staging. Harry Bicket conducts.

La clemenza di Tito opens Nov. 16. The Met will broadcast this production as part of its Live in HD series on Dec. 1.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Opera Review: A Dream about the King of Sweden

The Met's new Un Ballo in Maschera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nightmare and dreamscape: Marcelo Àlvarez and Sondra Radvanovsky duet in Un Ballo in Maschera.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's new David Alden production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera draws inspiration from the films of Ingmar Bergman. This surreal show plays out the libretto's love triangle as a series of vivid dreams. Which begs the question: if the masked ball is only a dream, does the assassination actually take place?

The show-curtain and backdrop for most of the action is a huge, Raphaelite painting of Icarus falling from the sky. Acts I and II open with a main character (first Gustavo, then Amelia) asleep in an armchair--the action playing out as a dream of each character. In the final act, the show evolves into a consensual hallucination. The masked ball seems equally inspired by J.K. Rowling and The Seventh Seal, as death avatars (in formal wear with black wings and skull masks) skulk through the dancing, anticipating the opera's grim climax.

Given the singers playing the three legs of Verdi's love triangle (as heard on Monday night) it may not actually matter. Marcelo Àlvarez sang King Gustavo. The Argentinian tenor responded well to the spotlight, in a role that lay comfortably for his voice. In the early acts, he sounded relaxed and genial, with smoother tone than in years past. Signs of wear were apparent by the Act III Study Scene (one of the toughest parts of the score), but he sang the finale beautifully.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Opera Review: A Grand Night for Singing

The 2012 Richard Tucker Gala.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Made in Brooklyn: opera tenor Richard Tucker.
The 2012 Richard Tucker Gala was held Sunday night.
Image © 1997 The United States Postal Service.
The 2012 Richard Tucker Gala was held this Sunday night at Avery Fisher Hall. The annual showcase for the philanthropic foundation named after the late, great opera tenor is always an important night in the opera season. This year, singers, industry people and opera lovers heard this year's Tucker Prize winner, soprano Ailyn Pérez in a program that put a heavy emphasis on the music of Verdi.

The Tucker Gala is a celebration of singing, honoring both the memory of the late Brooklyn-born tenor. The Tucker Foundation provides support and a showcase for young talent that is about to make a splash on the opera stages of the world. This year's concert also featured appearances from singers currently gracing the stage of the Met: baritones Gerald Finley and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, mezzo Olga Borodina and tenor Marcello Giordani.

Ms. Pérez is the first Tucker winner who happens to be married to a past winner--tenor Stephen Costello. (He won in 2009.) She opened the concert with a fiesty performance of Manon's gavotte, easily adding the difficult ornamentation in the repeated section and producing a high, clear tone above the stave.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Concert Review: The Lion's Return

Kurt Masur conducts Brahms.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The conductor Kurt Masur.
On Saturday night, Avery Fisher Hall was packed to the rafters to hear the New York Philharmonic kick off the third concert in its season-long celebration of Brahms. More importantly, this concert marked the New York return of former Music Director Kurt Masur, still tall and aristocratic but now visibly frail beneath his trademark Chinese silk conductor's jacket.

After years of visible hand tremors (that somehow never interfered with his conducting) a fall last season in Paris and several cancellations, Mr. Masur finally admitted to having Parkinson's Disease this year. It has now accelerated. The conductor now prefers a specially designed podium, equipped with metal rails he can grip, to control the tremors while he conducts.

In his walk to the podium, Mr. Masur stumbled forward. The audience drew a sharp, collective breath. However, the conductor was all right--he recovered his balance and took his place in front of the orchestra. Adjusting himself for a line of sight with the soloists (violinist Glenn Dicterow and cellist Alicia Weilerstein) and concertmaster Sheryl Staples, he gave the first downbeat of the Double Concerto, Brahms' last orchestral work.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Opera Review: God Strikes Back

Chelsea Opera premieres The Mark of Cain.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
God (Tom McNichols) marks Cain (Brace Negron) in The Mark of Cain.
Photo by Robert J. Saferstein © 2012 Chelsea Opera.
In a city that has forced itself to overcome long odds in the wake of recent events, the game Chelsea Opera company opened its season this week in St. Peters' Church on W. 20th St. Considering that their entire neighborhood was without power for most of last week, this opera company should be noted for its doggedness. Some singers even had to pedal all the way home from Brooklyn after performing rehearsals without heat.

There are advantages and disadvantages to writing opera based on the Bible. In the plus column, there's a lot of unmined stories, because of the Catholic Church's longstanding prohibition on putting religious stories on the stage. The minus: a certain sameness of voice. Musical clichés that include: dissonant, crashing chords for acts of great evil, a slinky, minor-key "Asiatic" mode for woodwinds, chiming triangles and divided violins for the twin concepts of goodness and redemption.

All of these musical clichés are present in Matthew Harris's The Mark of Cain, the one-hour one act opera presented this weekend by Chelsea Opera. Happily, an interesting libretto by Terry Quinn found new depths in the familiar story of Cain and Abel, and a strong cast of young singers did much to overcome the score's musical conventions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bach Against the Storm

Trinity Wall Street presents free Bach concert. 
Event to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief.
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street.
Photo by Leah Reddy © 2010 Trinity Church.
This just in: on Saturday night at 7:30pm, Trinity Church and the Trinity Choir will present a free performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B Minor as part of an effort to raise funding to relieve the suffering of victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Attendees at this concert are encouraged to donate to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, a non-profit which will in turn disperse funding to relief organizations helping the 40,000 New Yorkers left homeless by the storm.

Trinity's rector, Dr. James Cooper had the following comment: "Trinity Church has served New Yorkers in need for more than three centuries. There is no greater honor or privilege than to stand with our neighbors in this great city and to say, 'we are here to help.' I invite all to this concert to be uplifted by the music and by the spirit of your giving."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Opera Review: The Dons Take Over

The guys dominate Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bedroom comedy: Susanna (Mojca Erdmann) and the Countess (Maija Kovalevska)
scheme with Figaro (Ildar Abdrazakov) in this year's Met revival of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Opera, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro was the perfect medicine for a city suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that howled outside, dropping five inches of snow on the city.

Figaro is an ensemble piece, one which is usually dominated by the Countess (Maija Kovalevska) her pert maid Susanna (Mojdca Erdmann) and the cross-dressing page Cherubino (Christine Schaefer.) However on Wednesday night, it was the conflict between Figaro (Ildar Abdrazakov) and the Count (Gerald Finley) that held the audience's attention--a battle of wits and class between two men experienced in another Mozart role: Don Giovanni.

The long string of arias and numbers in the first act seemed disjointed, despite Mr. Abdrazakov's rousing "Se vuol bailare" and "Non piu andrai." Matters improved in the second act, as the marital conflict between Ms. Kovalevska's Countess and Mr. Finley's Don raised the temperature of the performance through a series of tight, involving ensembles. Best of all was the Act II finale, as seven singers gathered in a coherent display of deliberate confusion.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Concert Review: Have Piano, Will Travel

Murray Perahia in recital at Car...er...Avery Fisher Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hometown hero: the pianist Murray Perahia. Photo provided by Sony Classical.
A recital in New York by Murray Perahia is always a major event. The pianist's preference for traditional repertory makes him a favorite among more conservative music lovers, and his Bronx birth makes him a hometown hero. In a city clobbered by Hurricane Sandy, that kind of heroism is what was needed as patrons gathered for a concert that was supposed to happen three nights before.

You see, this Sunday night recital was originally scheduled for Friday night at Carnegie Hall. This change was necessitated by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left enormous, damaged construction crane dangling over W. 57th St. across the street from that historic venue, shutting down the venue, its attendant subway stops and all the local businesses for a two block radius.

The program selected by Mr. Perahia for this recital may have had therapeutic qualities for his traumatized audience. It opened with the solemn, sylvan dances of Haydn's D Major Sonata, which went through a series of stormy passages before emerging in an optimistic conclusion. Mr. Perahia displayed a lightness of touch, making a coherent argument that this composer's superb, underrated piano music needs to be heard more frequently.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Political Post

Superconductor would like to congratulate President Barack Obama...


on his re-election as the 44th President of the United States of America.

And here's some music:

Concert Review: The High Ground

Emanuel Ax and Mahler at the White Light Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Emanuel Ax played at this year's White Light Festival.
On Sunday afternoon, as their city staggered along its path to recovery from Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers gathered at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater to hear an unusual hybrid of solo recital and concert featuring New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence Emanuel Ax and members of that same orchestra in a program billed as Song of the Earth.

The concert (part of this year's White Light Festival)  featured that penultimate work by Gustav Mahler was present , in its currently en vogue chamber arrangement by Schoenberg. This concert was really about establishing connections by placing music in proximity: the Mahler piece was preceded by piano works by Schoenberg and before that, Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Bach work was the E♭ minor Prelude and Fugue (No. 8) from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Mr. Ax has only started playing Bach in public this year, and still uses the sheet music. Nevertheless, the slow, ascending steps of the Prelude led to a climax, followed by the descending, spiraling figures of this complex, fascinating fugue. As always with this artist, there was a beauty of tone and clarity of expression which held the attention rapt in the darkened theater.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Obituary: Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Elliott Carter: 1908-2012.
The American composer was 103. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Elliott Carter died peacefully today.

His death comes a little more than a month before his birthday, December 11. A report on NPR.org stated that according to his assistant, the composer died at home, of natural causes.

Mr. Carter was at the cutting edge of composition and new music creation in a career that spanned from the 20th century into the new millenium. An iconoclast even in his later years,, he wa considered the dean of American composers, working out of his W. 12th St. apartment in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

His early exposure to music came when he was 15, at a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring--still a relatively new work. (Pierre Monteux conducted.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Concert Review: Storm Home

Charles Dutoit conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Charles Dutoit. Photo provided by the New York Philharmonic.
The announcement came on Halloween Night, as Hurricane Sandy made her exit from our city, continuing the northwest course that forced the 500-mile-wide swirl of wind and rain smack straight on into New York Harbor:

November 1–3 Concert Program Changed Due To Impact Of Hurricane Sandy 
New Program To Include Works by Glinka, Elgar, and Rachmaninoff 
Soloist Nikolai Lugansky To Make Philharmonic Debut, Charles Dutoit To Conduct.


On Saturday night, with one subway line providing access into Manhattan, this writer was able to see the New York Philharmonic perform this altered program under the sure baton of veteran Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit. The whole program sparkled. It seemed that New York's hometown orchestra wanted to please and soothe with these great works, and provide some measure of healing to an audience still suffering shell shock from the storm.

The performance opened with a brisk, jaunty account of the Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, Mikhail Glinka's escapist fantasy based on a surreal drama by Pushkin. Mr. Dutoit and the orchestra produced the overture's Rossini-like rhythms with bold vigor, alternating with rich, Oriental colors from the double reeds.

Awareness: Beethoven and Sandy

Some music for the storm recovery.
Ludwig Was Here.
Last night at the New York Philharmonic concert, I got a little card in my Playbill, helpfully reminding me that November in New York City is Beethoven Awareness Month. As far as I am um...aware, this is the second year in a row that our city has celebrated the music of the great man. 

In light of recent events, I wanted to share the following clip, from Beethoven's only opera Fidelio, which ranks as my favorite piece that the composer ever wrote. It is a quartet in canon form, from the first act of the opera, and can hopefully serve as some kind of psychological balm in these chaotic days that have followed the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. 


Things are (slowly) getting back to normal here at the Superconductor desk, but that doesn't mean they are for the rest of the city. Whole sections of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island remain devastated, with enormous, unrepairable damage to lives, homes and property. So I urge you, after listening to this (or even before, to join the effort to help people in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere recover from the hurricane's impact. Here's a list of ways you can help:

The American Red Cross fund for Hurricane Relief. They need money. And if you can, visit a Red Cross blood drive and donate some of what flows in your veins.

Occupy Sandy Our friends at the movement for social change have set up kitchens and distribution of relief centers in Brooklyn. They have a list of donation requirements.

AmeriCares has set up its own disaster relief fund.

The Salvation Army is also doing disaster relief. I don't agree with this organization's policies on sexual discrimination but will post this if you want to help their relief efforts.

The Knights of Columbus, another organization I don't agree with but they are also out there organizing and donating.

New York's food trucks are working to provide food for people displaced. 
Food Bank New York is trying to feed the people who are out of their homes.

Finally, you can donate to the Mayor's Fund in four easy ways:

1. Online – visit www.nyc.gov/fund.
2. Mail – checks can be made payable to Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, with “hurricane relief” in the memo line, and sent to:
Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City,
253 Broadway, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10007. 
3. Call – donations can be made over the phone at 212-788-7794.
4. Text – text NYCFUND to 50555 to donate $10 to the Mayor’s Fund to support hurricane relief. (Message and data rates may apply.)

100 percent of donations are being dispersed to relief efforts and organizations to meet the short- and long-term needs of New York City and its residents. This includes immediate aid such as the supply and transport of water, food, toiletries, baby supplies, blankets and cleaning materials to distribution sites, as well as longer term restoration and recovery efforts.

To volunteer or for in-kind donations, visit www.nycservice.org.




Saturday, November 3, 2012

Crane Business Weekly


Performances are scheduled though Carnegie Hall is still dark.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This dangling crane on W. 57th Street has closed Carnegie Hall.
Photo from JoeMyGod.
A sunny, if cold weekend is upon us, and as New York continues to struggle back from the devastating hammer-blow of Hurricane Sandy, here's an update on what's going on.

In some good news for Brooklynites, subway service has resumed along the 4, 5, 6 between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The MTA and Con Ed are still working on draining the subway tunnels for the R and A trains, hard hit by the flooding.

Carnegie Hall is unable to open its doors due to the damaged construction crane dangling over W. 57th St. The entire block (and the 57th St. N, Q, R train station) remains closed. The Friday evening recital with Murray Perahia has been moved to Avery Fisher Hall. The crane is scheduled for removal this weekend.

The New York Philharmonic is open, with concerts tonight at Avery Fisher and a 5pm Sunday chamber performance of the Arnold Schoenberg arrangement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The concert, at the Lincoln Center Rose Theater (located in the Time Warner Center) features piano soloist and Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence Emanuel Ax.

The Metropolitan Opera is proceeding with business "as usual." Today there's a matinee performance of Thomas Àdes' The Tempest and an evening show of Le Nozze di Figaro. Next week, look for more news about the company's new production of Un Ballo in Maschera which opens next Thursday.

Here's some classical comfort food to get you through this difficult time. I know it helps me.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Concert Review: Before God Showed Up

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
(Ed. Note: Here's the review of last Saturday night at Carnegie Hall with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I know it's a little late in coming but things haven't been exactly normal around here.)
Before the storm: Robert Spano (right) conducts countertenor John Holiday
and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus  in Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms
at Carnegie Hall. (Photo by Chris Lee © 2012 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.)
On Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, New Yorkers attending this year's appearance by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus knew that a storm was coming. They didn't know that Hurricane Sandy would create the greatest natural disaster that this city has seen in a century, or that the venue itself would remain closed, due to the danger of a collapsed crane that has hovered over 57th Street this week like the anvil in the Metropolitan Opera's current production of The Barber of Seville.

Concert programs for touring orchestras are determined well in advance of a performance. There was no way of predicting that the three works on this program (Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and William Walton's 20th century cantata Belshazzar's Feast) would share the common thread of depicting the interference of the Almighty on people's everyday lives, even as Hurricane Sandy barrelled towards New York.

The concert opened with the Suite from Appalachian Spring, one of Copland's most enduring compositions. Mr. Spano displayed the rich, dulcet tones of the Atlanta cellos and basses to full advantage here, creating a rich, woven texture shot through with the homespun authenticity of Copland's folk melodies. The sonorous climax (featuring the full statement of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts created Copland's frontier idyll for the listener in rich, glowing detail.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.