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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Concert Review: When Alienation Attacks

Steven Wilson plays NJPAC.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Steven Wilson with his new signature model guitar made by Jeff Babicz.
Photo by Rocco DeCarlo for StevenWilsonHQ.
Steven Wilson is a man out of time. A progressive rock hero for the modern age, he writes music with little care for radio or music television. A self-taught songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he made his first recordings at the age of 13. He's matured since into a  brilliant, fearless songwriter with tart lyrics and a gift for imagery. In this decade, Mr. Wilson set aside his long-running band Porcupine Tree and other projects to launch a successful solo career. His music remains bleak, fierce and iconoclastic. On Sunday night, he brought his five-piece band to the Victoria Theater at NJPAC in Newark for the first of three area dates supporting his new solo album  Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Concert Review: Between East and West Lies the North

Susanna Mälkki debuts with the New York Philharmonic. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki made her Philharmonic debut this week.
Photography by Markku Niskanen © 2009 Ensemble Intercontemperain
As the New York Philharmonic prepares to end its 2014-15 season, America's oldest orchestra is sailing through uncertain waters. The orchestra is planning to vacate its premises for two years later this decade for necessary and total renovations to Avery Fisher Hall. They have finally elected a concertmaster to replace Glen Dicterow. Things became turbulent earlier this year when music director Alan Gilbert announced that he would step down.

Friday, May 22, 2015

DVD Review: Fire, Flood, and Formaldehyde

The La Scala Ring ends with Götterdämmerung.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A wall of corpses: Lance Ryan (left) and Iréne Theorin in Götterdämmerung.
Photo © 2014 Teatro Alla Scala/ArtHaus Musik. 
Richard Wagner originally planned the Ring Cycle to be one opera, Siegfrieds Tod, which would tell the epic story of Siegfried and his adventures among the Gibichungs, a grasping, Rhine-dwelling royal family who figure prominently in the German national epic the Nibelunglied. However, he wrote the music for the retitled Götterdämmerung last in the Ring, meaning that the epic, sweeping music propels a libretto that could be suitable for French grand opera. This stylistic dichotomy is never easy for any conductor to resolve, but on this 2014 Blu-Ray filmed at La Scala, conductor Daniel Barenboim does a pretty impressive job.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DVD Review: The Wild One

The Guy Cassiers production of Siegfried storms La Scala.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"D'you want to know how I got these scars?" Peter Bronder's Mime (right) prepares to tell
Lance Ryan's Siegfried (left) in Act I of Siegfried.> Photo © 2013 Brescia/Amisano/Teatro alla Scala.
Siegfried is the third and most problematic opera in Wagner's epic Ring Cycle. It's a three-act fairy tale about a lunk-headed hero who slays the monster, gets the treasure and (fumblingly) wins his woman over a five-hour stretch. But in the hands of conductor Daniel Barenboim in this 2014 Blu-Ray from La Scala (filmed in 2012 and released last year on the ArtHaus Musik label) , the languors of this opera seem to just fly by. It's not that Mr. Barenboim is fast, it's that he keeps the action moving forward producing the most exciting Siegfried on DVD since the one he made at Bayreuth in the 1990s.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DVD Review: Back to the Valkyrie Rock

Daniel Barenboim conducts the La Scala Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nina Stemme sleeps under sun-lamps--er Magic Fire in Act III of Die Walküre. 
Photo by Brescia e Amisano © 2014 Teatro alla Scala.
In the early 1990s, conductor Daniel Barenboim shot to the forefront of Wagner interpreters with a gutty, anachronistic and thoroughly entertaining audio and visual recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen from the Bayreuth Festival. That staging, by German director Harry Kupfer, channeled the Mad Max films of George Miller to create a high-octane cycle set along a post-apocalyptic road. In this new cycle, Mr. Barenboim is paired with director Guy Cassiers, who combines the latest technical wizardry with detail-heavy acting to create a bold and entertaining  show.

DVD Review: No Glove, No Love

Daniel Barenboim conducts the La Scala Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A game of thrones: Johannes Martin Kränzle as Alberich in Das Rheingold.
Photo by Koen Broos © 2013 La Scala ArtHaus Musik.
(This is a repost in anticipation of forthcoming reviews of the rest of this Ring  later this week.)

There are a lot of familiar theatrical ideas at work in this Das Rheingold, a DVD issue of the 2010 La Scala production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Digital back projections, dancers serving as scenery (and occasionally, props and furniture) and little square pools of water onstage for the singers to splash in are not new. However, director Guy Cassiers succeeds in combining all these elements to present the "preliminary evening" of the Ring in a fresh and intelligent way. With an emphasis on acting and singing over technology and spectacle, this is a production for these economically uncertain times.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Concert Review: Back on Track

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Parler à la main: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Image © 2015 Fondation Jasmin Roy from a YouTube video
It hasn't been an easy week for the Philadelphia Orchestra. That city is still grieving in the wake of an Amtrak derailment that resulted in seven dead and hundreds of injuries. Despite the travel issues, the ensemble and its irrepressible music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin commuted to Carnegie Hall on Thursday for their final New York concert of the 2015 season. This program featured two works premiered by the orchestra (one old, one new) and pianist Emanuel Ax playing Beethoven.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Concert Review: Teachable Moments

Stephen Hough returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Stephen Hough makes a point.
Photo from CM Management.
A New York recital by the pianist Stephen Hough is more than a pleasant evening at a concert hall, it is the opportunity to experience one of the most acute musical minds working today. Mr. Hough is a composer, author, and scholar and last Saturday night's Carnegie Hall program, fiercely independent in his approach to traditional repertory and yet grounded in a solid academic understanding of the great works. For his first solo appearance at that venue in two years was a deep delve into the music of two very different Paris-based composers: Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy.

Festival Preview: Ear Stretching in Toronto

Toronto's 21C Festival enters its sophomore year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kaija Saariaho
Toronto, Ontario is a little outside the usual beat for Superconductor, but with the slowed-down May schedule in New York a festival for new music by contemporary composers has caught the attention of this blog. The 21C Festival (May 20-24) is entering its second year. Over five nights and eight concerts, this is a vibrant celebration of modern music in Canada's largest city.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Opera Review: Unfinished Business

Peter Eötvös' Senza Sangue bows at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's back: Alan Gilbert (right) and the New York Philharmonic return to Avery Fisher Hall.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 New York Philharmonic courtesy 21C.
On an ordinary evening in an unnamed European city, a woman stops at a news kiosk to buy a lottery ticket. This unassuming beginning is the start of Senza Sangue, the opera for two singers that had its New York premiere last Friday night at the New York Philharmonic. Unusually, this new 45-minute opera was paired with Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, the so-called Unfinished. Alan Gilbert, looking relaxed after a month spent touring Europe with the orchestra, conducted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Opera Roundup: At the Met, Too Short a Season

The Five Best Metropolitan Opera performances of 2014-15.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Very merry: Susan Graham as Hanna Glawar in The Merry Widow:
 a late-season saving grace at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Normally this is the post every year where I, your intrepid Superconductor author, round up the best of the Metropolitan Opera's season, having seen every one of its twenty-four productions. But that didn't happen this year. Since the Met press office does not offer press tickets to this publication, since the September introduction of a series of labyrinthine changes in the company's Rush Ticket program, this year made covering the Met a much more difficult task.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Concert Review: Prophets and Losses

The Collegiate Chorale travels The Road of Promise.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wholly Moses: Mark Delevan in The Road of Promise at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Erin Baiano © 2015 The Collegiate Chorale.
The Nazi persecution of Jewish composers and musicians remains a permanent blood-stain on the history of 20th century art music. On Thursday night, the Collegiate Chorale presented Kurt Weill's The Road of Promise to close out their season at Carnegie Hall. This is a new condensed concert version of Weill's little heard magnum opus Der Weg der Verbeissing (presented originally as The Eternal Road), a massive opera-oratorio written as a vehement protest against the encroaching darkness of Hitler's Germany.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Concert Review: The Heavy Weight of Faith

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space presents Bach's Mass in B minor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
K. Scott Warren leads the Choir of St. Ignatius.
Photo by Joshua South Photograpy © 2015 Sacred Music in a Sacred Space.
Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B Minor was the composer's final great choral work, an enormous setting of the Catholic liturgy that was never performed complete in his lifetime. (In fact Europe waited until 1859 for the first performance under the leadership of Carl Friedrich Zelter, a key figure in the Bach revival of the 19th century.) Although its history is complex, its power in performance cannot be denied.

The Once and Future Conductor

Berlin Philharmonic elects first zombie music director.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Berlin Philharmonic's once and future music director Herbert von Karajan.
Original image © Deutsche Grammophon, altered with MakeMeZombie.Com
The Berlin Philharmonic, seeking a replacement for outgoing music director Sir Simon Rattle has elected the animated cadaver of Herbert von Karajan to lead the orchestra into the 21st century. Mr. von Karajan, who died in 1989, is the first undead music director of a major symphony orchestra and the first Berlin music director to resume his post.

Maria Callas Meets the Incredible Hulk

Opera in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Opera lover: Mark Ruffalo is the Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
"Hulk", "Incredible Hulk" and "Avengers" are registered trademarks of Marvel Studios.
Image © 2015 Marvel Studios used for promotional purposes only.
One of the ongoing difficulties faced when writing about opera is the age-old and tired saw that opera has become irrelevant. That the work of Wagner, Verdi and Bellini has nothing to offer the 21st century and that it is a dying or worse yet, fossilized art form.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Opera Review: Early Child Development

Bare Opera takes its first steps with Ravel and Debussy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Véronique Rapin as the Child in L'Enfant et les Sortileges.
Photo credit: Jose Lara © 2015 Bare Opera.
It is quite something to be attendant at the birth of an opera company. On Monday night, in the airy Robert Miller Gallery on the extreme west of 26th St. in Chelsea, the Bare Opera mounted the third and final performance of its inaugural production: an ambitious double bill of Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue and Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortileges. This young company is one of many determined to present an alternative to the large corporate-backed opera house, enriching and enlivening the New York opera scene and providing much-needed opportunity for young singers.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Concert Review: The Most Exquisite Claudio

John Eliot Gardiner conducts Monteverdi at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo of Sir John Eliot Gardiner © 2014 by James Cheadle Low.
Painting of Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Tozzi circa 1640. Photo alteration by the author.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir rose to prominence fifty years ago with a concert of Monteverdi's Vespri della Beata Vergine at Cambridge. Last week, conductor and choir celebrated that anniversary at Carnegie Hall with two concerts. These performances, featuring Monteverdi's Vespers on Thursday and the opera L'Orfeo on Friday, were the culmination of Carnegie's month-long Before Bach festival. They mark a half century at the vanguard of the historically informed performance movement.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Opera Review: Between Sun and Moon

The Manhattan School of Music mounts Die Zauberflöte.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Queen of the Night by Erté.
Image by Erté © the estate of the artist.
Mozart's Die Zauberflöte is one of the most popular operas in the repertory, but staging  successful performance of it remains elusive. This Wednesday night, it was the Manhattan School of Music that accepted the challenge of staging the singspiel in a new production by director and dramaturge Jay Lesenger, imported to the conservatory following successful performances in the Midwest.

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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.