About Superconductor

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

An Anthem of the Mind

Reflections on the National Anthem and the Trump presidency.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three Flags by Jasper Johns from 1958.
Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In the last 24 hours of the never-ending cycle of news, tweets and sloganeering that has come to characterize American politics since the elevation of one Donald John Trump to the highest office in the land, another firestorm has erupted. The subject: Mr. Trump's decision last night to attack currently unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his protest gesture of taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les contes d'Hoffmann

Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I love you Miss Robot:  Erin Morley in a scene from Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Offenbach's final opera, a phantasmagorical tale about a writer trapped in stories of his own creation. Vittorio Grigolo is the hapless hero in this tragicomic classic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Concert Review: Another Openin', Another Maestro

Jaap van Zweden opens the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden accepts the "baton award."
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.

The changing of the guard at any major symphony orchestra is a long and complicated process. For the New York Philharmonic, who are in the process of installing the Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden as its new music director, that process took another turn on Tueday night. Mr. van Zweden is not quite "here" yet. He will start his first official season with the orchestra in 2018 and conduct a few subscription concerts this year. Meanwhile, he will divide this season between New York, Hong Kong and Dallas, where he is in the final year of his contract.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Norma

A change of seasons and a change of divas for Opening Night.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sondra Radvanovsky (with knife) prepares for sacrifice in Norma.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 the Metropolitan Opera.

Norma is one of those operas that is all about the soprano singing the title role. In this case, the Metropolitan Opera opens its 2017-18 season with a new production by Sir David McVicar, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as the knife-wielding pagan priestess who reacts badly when she learns her boyfriend (the leader of the opposing Roman forces) is cheating on her....with her handmaiden.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The 2017-18 New York Philharmonic Season Preview

New York City's most prominent symphony orchestra unveils its new face.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The New York Philharmonic unveiled Jaap von Zweden (center) as its new Music Director.
Background art © 1983 Mad Magazine from Issue 259. Painting by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder.
Photo butchery by the author.
The New York Philharmonic throws open its doors tomorrow night with a concert they are dubbing the Gala of 106 All-Stars. The program is unusual and heavy for an opening night: Gustav Mahler's burly five-movement Symphony No. 5. The real star of the show will be on the podium: Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden who is one year away from beginning his tenure as the orchestra's newest Music Director. This concert will be reviewed on Superconductor but if you're not going it will also be streamed live on Facebook.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Concert Review: A Precise Hit Will Start a Chain Reaction

The New York Philharmonic plays Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three ships came back: the Rebels at the start of the Battle of Yavin.
Image from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope © 1997 Lucasfilm Ltd./The Walt Disney Company.

There would be no Star Wars without the music of  John Williams. On Friday night, the composer's stirring opening music sent hairs standing on end as the New York Philharmonic gave its second performance of the complete orchestral score of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Their task: accompanying George Lucas' 1997 remastered "Special Edition" of the beloved 1977 science fiction classic. This concert series will continue later this month with The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and the most recent "official" episode in the series: The Force Awakens.

Friday, September 15, 2017

New Head on the Block

Puccini's Turandot claims yet another victim.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Princess Turandot. Art from the original cover of the score as published by Ricordi.
The title character of Puccini's final opera Turandot is a fabulous Chinese princess, and possibly the most bloodthirsty heroine in opera. Y'see, Turandot, the daughter of the Chinese Emperor, is a single girl. And in a vow to her ancestor, she has her would-be suitors decapitated when they fail to answer three riddles. One could view this work as an exotic vision of ancient China through the eyes of a late Romantic Italian composer...or a game show gone horribly wrong.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Clown Shows in Brooklyn

Pagliacci postponed: gang of plucky kids may be responsible.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Actor Bill Skaarsgaard) visits LoftOpera.
Pennywise image © 2017 Lions Gate Studios. LoftOpera image © LoftOpera.
Photoshop by the clown that writes this blog.
Opera lovers may notice a gaping hole in the schedule this week. LoftOpera, that plucky and innovative company that mounts wonderful operas on the cheap has been forced to postpone   its planned production of Pagliacci, the bloody Leoncavallo verismo drama about a clown who goes berserk and murders his wife.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Concert Review: Naked Crunch

Apocalyptica celebrate 20 years of Metallica covers--on cellos. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The gentlemen of Apocalyptica: (l.r.) Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaasko, Paavo Lötjönen and Antero Manninen
in their video for "Battery." Image © 2017 Apocalyptica.

Twenty years ago, I was in the Record Factory in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn on a Saturday afternoon. The clerk, Fred showed me something "new and weird" that had just come in. It was by a band called Apocalyptica and was titled Plays Metallica for Four Cellos. Skeptical, I flipped it over. And that was when I recognized Eicca Toppinen, the Finnish cellist who is the band's leader and who I had met when he was playing in New York with the new music ensemble Avanti! the year before. Anyway, I bought it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Festival Preview: Star Wars at the New York Philharmonic

A long time ago, in a concert hall far away...
by Paul J. Pelkonen
His name is Lord Vader. Be extremely polite.
Star Wars art © 2017 Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company,
used for purposes of promoting the New York Philharmonic only. 
In recent years, the New York Philharmonic has jumped squarely on the bandwagon of playing orchestral scores as accompaniment to popular films. This month though, America's oldest orchestra takes that experiment to hyperspace with the Star Wars Film Concert Series: performances of four of the seven films in the Star Wars franchise, with the orchestra thundering away (under the baton of David Newman) as the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia spool forth onscreen. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out in December, this three-week cinematic marathon is just the place for Star Wars fans to get their inner Force into balance.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Opera Review: Minnie Shot First

The New York City Opera opens with La fanciulla del West.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A rootin'-tootin' romance: Jonathan Burton and Kristin Sampson in  La fanciulla del West.
Photo by Sara Shatz courtesy New York City Opera.

Of the mature operas by Giacomo Puccini, La fanciulla del West (English title The Girl of the Golden West) is unique. It was his first (and only) opera written for the American stage, premiering at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 with Enrico Caruso in the tenor part and the composer in attendance. Based on a play by David Belasco, (he also provided Puccini with source material for Madama Butterfly) its ending preaches tolerance over tragedy. The final curtain descends on an ambiguous but generally happy note as the hero and heroine ride off into a new future. It was an inspired choice to open the second full season of the resuscitated New York City Opera.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart's comedy of masters, servants and class warfare returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ildar Abdrazakov and Isabel Leonard in a moment from Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met brings back its sparkling Figaro under the baton of English period performance maven Harry Bicket.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Hansel and Gretel

Cannibalism repurposed as holiday entertainment.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A delightful time for the whole family. Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met revives Humperdinck's fairy tale (in English) in this fractured production by director Richard Jones. More cake?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Verdi Requiem

In place of the cancelled Forza, four concerts instead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The subject matter of the Verdi Requiem, in one image.
Superconductor makes no endorsement of any one religion, belief or practice.
Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Requiem Mass has been called his best opera that doesn't have a staging. Here, the Met offers this massive work as a substitute for its cancelled production of La Forza del Destino.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Thaïs

The most famous French opera with an umlaut in the title.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from the Met's first run of Thaïs with Renée Fleming (left) and Thomas Hampson.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera 
The Met revives Massenet's most sensuous opera as a vehicle for soprano Ailyn Pérez and stud baritone Gerald Finley.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Madama Butterfly

East meets West with disastrous consequences in Puccini's tragedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A dancer in the opening scene of the Met's production of Madama Butterfly.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
It's one of the greatest love stories of the operatic canon. It's a sharp commentary on American imperialism and the uncaring treatment of "natives" by white people. It's both. It's brilliant. It's Butterfly.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Opera Review: Fox Does Politics

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble flushes The Cunning Little Vixen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Into the woods: the Fox (left) and the Vixen (Rachel Hall) meet cute in Janáček's opera.
Photo by Brian Long © 2017 Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
In the remarkable string of operas that the Czech composer Leoš Janáček crafted in the last years of his life, it is Příhody lišky Bystroušky (usually represented in English as "The Cunning Little Vixen" that stands apart. Based on a Czech newspaper cartoon that was popular in Janáček's hometown of Brno, it is the only one of his operas that has any appeal to a younger audience. And yet, as shown in an intriguing new production by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. the Vixen is a deeply relevant opera whose sunny libretto masks some strong political subtext.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Opera Preview: La Fanciulla del West

New York City Opera will kick off its season with Puccini's most American opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cards with a stranger: Emmy Destinn (right) and Enrico Caruso (center) in Act II
of La Fanciulla del West. Photo © 1910 the Ricordi Archives.
The resuscitated New York City Opera has reclaimed its position as the leadoff hitter of the 2017 fall cultural season in New York City, as they prepare to open Sept. 6 with a staging of Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Concert Review: Robert and Clara (and their friend Johannes)

It's all Schumann and Brahms at Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The 5,000 Fingers of Kirill Gerstein. The pianist played Mostly Mozart this week.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The trials and tribulations of the great Romantic composers have always fascinated the classical music-loving public. From the extramarital wanderings of Richard Wagner to Frederic Chopin's stormy relationship with the lady novelist George Sand, it has provided fodder for intermission conversation over coffee and small overpriced sandwiches,. Arguably, the most famous triangle relationship was between three composers: Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Johannes Brahms.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Exterminating Angel

Thomas Adès' new opera comes to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from The Exterminating Angel.Image courtesy Royal Opera of Covent Garden.

British composer Thomas Adès, known for his operas Powder Her Face and The Tempest adapts the 1962 Luis Buñuel film for the stage. In this new work, surreal comedy becomes survival5 drama as the guests at a very strange dinner party find that, come the next morning, they are not allowed to leave.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Concert Review: The Survival of the Fittest

Yes bring their touring "Yestival" to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes go close to the edge. L.-R.: Steve Howe, Dylan Howe, Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Billy Sherwood.
Photo by the author, graphics by Roger Dean.
Yes, the British progressive rock band known for long Byzantine songs and perpetual lineup changes, rolled through Brooklyn last night, bringing their tour, dubbed "Yestival", to the Ford Amphitheater on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The veteran band, who are celebrating their past due induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, brought yet another lineup change, and a set that featured ten carefully chosen songs, one from each of] their first ten albums, played in chronological order.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Antic Disposition

The Danish String Quartet play Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The members f the Danish String Quartet and their latest construction project.
Photo courtesy Kirshbaum Associates. 

Each summer, the Mostly Mozart Festival is dominated by the main stage orchestra offerings at David Geffen Hall. On Thursday evening, however, the ears of its audience were attuned to chamber music. This concert at Alice Tully Hall featured two of the great string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, as played by that excellent and fast-rising ensemble, the Danish String Quartet. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Concert Review: Rolling Doubles

Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis at Mostly Mozart.
Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis team up again at Mostly Mozart.
Photo courtesy Linfoln Center/Mostly Mozart.
Tuesday night's concert at Mostly Mozart, conducted by Andrew Mainze and featuring an all-star tandem of soloists featured a distinct absence of music by Mozart. Rather, the Festival Orchestra turned its talents to Brahms, Bach and Mendelssohn. The program was well chosen, bringing together three unusual and infrequently layer pieces together. Credit for this must go to the scholarly Mr. Mainze, whose cool-headed, cerebral approach to music-making has four him at the helm of the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Concert Review: New Blood for Old Masters

Beatrice Rana plays Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young virtuoso Beatrice Rana took Mostly Mozart by storm.
Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Classics.
The music of Bach and Beethoven form a rite of passage for any young pianist. Playing the challenging works of these composers before a paying audience (as Beatrice Rana did last week at Mostly Mozart) is a further test. On Friday night, Ms. Rana made her festival debut with two performances: a preliminary concert featuring Bach's Partita No. 2 in c minor and the main event: a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Friday, August 4, 2017

There is Water Under Ground

The importance of Remaining in Light.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo performed Remain in Light
by the Talking Heads at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night.
The other night, as my concert companion and I walked out of Mostly Mozart, we started crossing Lincoln Center Plaza southward. As we approached the bandshell, we heard the extraordinary sound of...the Talking Heads. Now, I don't usually go to another concert right on top of the first one, and I'm reluctant to be in a crowd when processing a show. However, this was Angelique Kidjo and her band, and one of the events this summer that I had wanted to see (and had forgotten about) a complete performance of the classic 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Concert Review: Of Trash Cans, Bottles and Pipes

Sō Percussion joins Mostly Mozart for a new concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
They're lumberjacks and they're OK: the men of Sō Percussion.
Photo © 2017 
Sō Percussion/Mostly Mozart Festival.
In recent years, the Mostly Mozart Festival, once the staid haven of conservative music lovers in the hot summers of New York City, has become a home for new music. On Wednesday night, the Festival Orchestra and its music director Louis Langrée were joined by Sō Percussion, a New York based quartet. This was the second of two concerts this week, featuring the premiere of man made, a new work by David Lang.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recordings Review: This Ain't No Fairy Music

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Mendelssohn's five symphonies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cover portrait of Yannick Nézet-Séguin from his new DG cycle
of Mendelssohn symphonies. © 2017 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
The five symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn have enjoyed a mixed reputation in the hectic whirl of the 21st century. Two of them remain standard program items: the Third ("Scottish") and Fourth ("Italian"), musical walking tours in which the composer muses on his travels to those two countries. The Fifth ("Reformation") stands between the early Romanticism of Beethoven and the perfectionism of Brahms. And the first two are almost never programmed: a cheerful work of the composer's early maturity and a massive choral symphony that is closer in its nature to a cantata. All these works used to be recorded regularly, but a new cycle of Mendelssohn symphonies is like a tricycle for adults: stable, reliable, but not everyone wants or needs one.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Opera Review: Tsarface

The Time of Troubles comes to Bard College with Dimitrij.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Family snapshot: the false tsar Dimitrij (Clay Hilley, center)
flanked by Marfa (Nora Sourouzian) and Marina, his wife (Melissa Citro).
Photo courtesy Bard College and Bard SummerScape.

The operas of Antonín Dvorak are central to the repertory in that composer’s native land, but apart from Rusalka, remain neglected here in the United States. That may change after this weekend, when Bard SummerScape offered the first fully staged U.S. Performances of Dimitrij. Planned to be Dvorak's breakthrough international success, this opera is his most ambitious stage work: an absorbing, turbulent drama chronicling the start of the Time of Troubles, the most turbulent period in Russian history,

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Total Perspective Vortex

Strauss, Nietzsche and Ein Alpensinfonie
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The climactic moment of Strauss' Ein Alpensinfonie.

Before he rose to fame as the creator of operas like Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss was famed for his tone poems. Of these, his last and most ambitious is Ein Alpensinfonie from 1915. It is a mind-boggling 22-movement work which follows some of the conventions of a proper symphony but is designed to be played as one single unit, telling the story of a day's journey up an Alp in his native Bavaria.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Turandot

Fantastical, phantasmagorical and faintly ridiculous.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's amore: Marcelo Alvarez (center) woos Turandot as thousands cheer.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's elaborate production of Puccini's final opera returns to the delight of people who like "Nessun dorma" and big, elaborate productions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

Death, romance and the rooftops of Paris in Puccini's timeless opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susanna Philips as Musetta and cast in Act II of La bohème. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera markets Puccini's third opera as "the most popular opera of all time." That may be debatable, but the show returns this year in Franco Zefirelli's elaborate and constantly rehabilitated production.

Death, Congress and Tosca

On Twitter with Puccini and the banality of evil.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Cover art for the CD issue of the 1980 Karajan Tosca.
Image © 1980 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
It started because I couldn't sleep.

Tonight was the super-stealthy midnight vote by the Republican Party to enact a so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, the health care achievement by President Barack Obama that has enabled me to continue my career both as a freelance writer and as the author of Superconductor, my very own classical music publication that you're reading if you're reading this right now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Opera Preview: Dimitrij

Superconductor delves into "The Time of Troubles" and Dvořák's opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The incident that started it all: Ivan the Terrible (top) holds his dying son Ivanovich.
Painting by Vadim Repin. 
The biggest opera premiere of the summer is this Friday evening, when Bard SummerScape unveils the rarely performed Dmitrij by Antonín Dvořák. Dmitrij is a Czech opera that delves into a bloody and to historians, fascinating period: the Time of Troubles. With the premiere scheduled for Friday night, I thought it would be a good idea to delve into the history of Dmitrij, and its more famous "prequel": Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Zauberflöte

We test the theory that everything is funnier in German.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kathryn Lewek is the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
Photo by Ken Howard © The Metropolitan Opera.
James Levine continues his tour of the great Mozart operas with the composer's last work. Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute") is part knockabout comedy, part love story and part sacred mystical journey into enlightenment for its young hero. This is the uncut version of the opera, sung in German. (A shorter version in English will be offered in December, geared toward a younger audience.)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Recordings Review: He's No Hero, That's Understood

Paavo Järvi and the NHK Symphony Orchestra unleash Strauss tone poems.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Helmsman: Paavo Järvi leading the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Belinda Lawley © 2017 NHK
The NHK Symphony Orchestra is one of the twenty-four professional ensembles that call Tokyo, Japan their home, a mind-boggling number to the critic who lives in a culture where the arts are treated as some sort of afterthought by those  who see to the dispersal of public funds for such matters. So far, the pairing of the orchestra with Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi has been a fruitful one. The first harvest from his term as music director is an exciting new recording, made in Suntory Hall of two very familiar Richard Strauss tone poems: Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Concert Review: The New Teen Titans

The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America marks five years at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America,
also known as the Red Pants Brigade. Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall.
A concert performed by an orchestra of musicians between the age of sixteen to nineteen is usually not an occasion for comment. However, on Friday night, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America played at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of Marin Alsop. The NYO-USA was established five years ago through the good offices of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and remains an important initiative in the sadly neglected and underfunded field of American music education.

It would be fallacious to hold these young musicians, in their uniform of black jackets, red concert slacks and low-cut canvas sneakers to the same standard as the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics. There were missed notes, or notes played past the measure. There were some lured and awkward phrases. However the lack of polish in their playing was compensated for with a raw energy and enthusiasm, and a fearlessness as they took on the challenge of two works by modern composers and one of Gustav Mahler’s most familiar and most forbidding symphonies: the First.

The concert started with Short Ride in a Fast Machine, a four minute curtain raiser by John Adams that epitomizes the phrase “truth in advertising.” A repeatedly tapped woodblock provided the piston pump on that machines engine, with violins  winds and brass sawing, chirping and bellowing Mr. Adams’ trademark short cells of sound. Rough this the woodblock persisted, embodying either the ticking of an overworked engine or an excited woodpecker strapped firmly into the passenger seat. This is a work of propulsive movement that climaxes in a golden glow of sound.

Ms. Alsop proved to be a rally-class driver of this very large ensemble, navigating Mr. Adams’ gear-shifts of meter and phrase. She whipped the big orchestra around the hairpin turns while immersing the listener in the dens orchestral soundscape, Somehow this short piece seemed a lot longer and more absorbing then its four-minute length would indicate.

The orchestra seemed more enthusiastic about the second piece of the evening, the three movement Apu: A Tone Poem for Orchestra from the pen of Gabriella Lena Frank. This was a kind of concerto for orchestra in three movements, with complicated lines for woodwind a and high percussion. Its purpose: to depict the Apu, a wilderness spirit that appears to travelers high in the mountain passes of Peru. Like the playful mountain spirit, the spiritual center of Ms. Frank's work revealed itself slowly and proved to be well worth the journey. The final movement was exuberant and demanding.

Mahler's First Symphony is one of the composer's most accessible: an early statement of purpose loaded with quotes from the composer's own songs, children's rhymes and even a fragment of Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel. It remains popular with audiences and regularly programmed as a result. However the four movements of this symphony (once nicknamed “the Titan”) are a stiff climb for even the most seasoned professional band. Here. The NYO-USA players seemed challenged in the first movement where woodwind phrases were overextended and the first roar of the horns feeble and timid. However, Ms. Alsop recognized the difficulties and responded with an urgent tempo, letting the energy of the movement build and build before erupting in a storm of timpani and trumpet in its closing pages.

The dance movement was taken at a similar urgent pace, with the cellos chugging out the rollicking almost nautical rhythm. Some slurred string phrases in the trio were forgivable. E slow movement was super, a smoldering funeral march that ascended into a manic celebration before relapsing into the quiet meditation of the opening theme. The final movement detonated, with Ms. Alsop letting her charges burst forth into exuberant fanfares. Wind and brass. Indeed, the horn section did the heroic, heavy lifting at the end. They stood and played proudly with robust tone and bells raised for maximum volume, hammering home the last notes of this audacious and ebullient work.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Met Al Fresco: Summer Live in HD Festival

A look ahead at next month's Peter Gelb film festival in Lincoln Center Plaza.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Eric Owens in L'Amour de Loin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 the Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera returns to its tradition of showing reruns to an adoring public at Lincoln Center plaza in the late summer. This year the company offers screenings of eight operas plus filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's version of The Magic Flute. Why only eight operas, you ask? Because one of them, Wagner's four hour epic Tristan und Isolde is being split into two nights.

All the screenings will be held on Lincoln Center Plaza, with the 3,000 FREE seats filled on a first-come first-serve basis. Programs and playbills will be provided.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Concert Review: Outside it May Be Raining...

Beating the heat with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Partners at work: David Finckel and Wu Han.
Photo from the artists' website.
Most summer music festivals take place under hot tents or purpose-built structures open to the elements. Neither are conducive to good music-making, although the combination of grassy swards, majestic trees and a good bottle of cab. franc makes up for any unpleasantness. The Chamber Music Society's summer series, which gave the second of three concerts on Wednesday night, offers a comfortable alternative: the air-conditioned acoustic excellence of Alice Tully Hall.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Follies on the Roof

Tosca star, conductor take the act to Tanglewood.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jump they say: Karita Mattila in a promotional shot for the Met's old production of Tosca.
Image © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera

Those wanting to see the original conductor and soprano scheduled for the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Tosca should head to Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. on August 26. Conductor Andris Nelsons and his wife Kristine Opolais will perform Act II of the opera in a special opera gala at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's annual summer festival.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Concert Review: When the Typewriters Talk....

Lincoln Center Festival does Naked Lunch.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Liquid courage: Peter Weller drinks up in Naked Lunch.
Image Copyright 1991 201th Century Fox.
Ornette Coleman carved his own path as a composer. As he burst upon the scene, he epitomized the atonal explorations of free jazz and then developing his own musical system of “harmolodics” to express himself with saxophone and pen. On Tuesday night, the Lincoln Center Festival kicked off its week-long Coleman tribute with a screening of Naked Lunch, the surreal, disturbing and very funny David Cronenberg film for which Coleman supplied part of the soundtrack.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Orpheus in Thuringia

Why did Wagner choose to set Tannhäuser?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This isn't exactly what happens in Tannhäuser but to be fair
it is a long opera. Art by John Byrne from The Incredible Hulk No. 315 © Marvel Comics.
Of the thirteen operas that Richard Wagner brought to the stage, it is his fifth, Tannhäuser that creates the most headaches for singers, conductors and directors. It is a Germanic update of the the Orpheus myth. Wagner distilled his libretto from theee separate medieval legends, creating a complex and flawed work that meditates on the dichotomy between reason and passion, between celestial fate and earthly lust, with an artist and musician trapped in the middle.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Transformative Alchemy: Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

An analysis of the Pastorale Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
 Beethoven and Nature.
Detail from the painting by N.C. Wyeth.

What is program music? This is a question that musicians and music critics have been wrestling with (and generally losing the match) for 200 years. The debate started in 1808, the year that Ludwig van Beethoven premiered his Symphony No. 6 in F Major, the Pastorale. While it would be Hector Berlioz who created the first detailed program for a symphony 22 years later in his Symphonie-fantastique, Beethoven pointed the way forward by substituting movement titles for the usual tempo markings. 

Recordings Review: One Man Against the World

Jonas Kaufmann sings Mahler solo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The mysterious Jonas Kaufmann.
Photo by Julian Hargreaves for Sony Classical.
How does a singer start his next act? If you're Jonas Kaufmann, the heartthrob tenor who is known for his good looks, stage presence and (more recently) frequent cancellations, you do it on record. Mr. Kaufmann is known for the lighter Wagner tenor roles (Lohengrin, Parsifal) as well as heroic parts in the operas of Puccini, Bizet and Massenet. However his newest recording, released this spring by Sony Classical is something different: a solo flight through Mahler’s autumnal epic Das Lied Von der Erde.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Opera at Random: Pelléas et Mélisande

A walk in the dark woods with Claude Debussy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from the (rather beautiful) Robert Wilson staging of
Pelléas et Mélisande from the Opera de Paris. Photo courtesy medici.tv.
Like the forests of Allemonde, Superconductor was dark for the last week as I rested, recharged and figured out what direction I want to take this blog in next. Today, I borrowed an idea from the composer John Cage: indeterminacy. Using the shuffle function on my old 160GB iPod Classic to decide which composer I'm writing about. And the winner is: Claude Debussy and his lone opera: Pelléas et Mélisande.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Five Great Opera Performances: Spring 2017

Here are five memorable operas from the spring of 2017.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Does this really need a caption? Photoshop by the author.
This is a fertile time for opera in New York, with singers, conductors and impresarios exercising imagination and daring to bring lesser known operas before an enthusiastic public. From the daring new music of the PROTOTYPE Festival to the lesser-known stage works of Rossini and Rimsky-Korsakov, our city is a cornucopia of operatic opportunity.

Here are five of the more impressive opera performances reviewed on Superconductor in the spring of 2017.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Lincoln Center Festival

No symphonies. No concertos. No opera. No problem?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The legendary saxophonist Ornette Coleman's spirit lives on at this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
The Lincoln Center Festival continues to push the cutting edge, leaving symphony, concerto (and yes, opera) behind for a bold poutpurri of world music, electronica and one of the most innovative voices in American jazz: Ornette Coleman.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Tanglewood

Another summer under the trees offers gods, rainbows and Mahler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Koussevitsky Concert Shed at Tanglewood, guarded by a really big tree.
Photo courtesy the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Whisper the name "Tanglewood" and you will tickle the conscience of the novice classical music-goer, and fire the memories of those who have walked its grassy paths and visited the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Located on a sprawling estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, this is the Cadillac of summer festivals, offering symphonies, chamber music and opera to a throng of devotees who make the pilgrimage again and again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Five Best Orchestral Concerts: Spring 2017

We look at the five best concerts of the spring season that was.

As I'm on vacation this week, we're going to be looking back at some of the most memorable performances of the year 2017 (so far, anyway.) Here are the best symphonic concerts, from shows seen at Carnegie Hall (including Daniel Barenboim's nine-concert Bruckner cycle) to as far away as Osaka, Japan. Oh yeah. I went to Japan in February. Anyway, here's the reviews, all written by yours truly.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Bard SummerScape

False Tsars and Polish piano mastery mark this year's festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Murder of the False Dmitry by Konstantin Makovsky
gives some idea of the mayhem to come at this summer's Bard Festival.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The rolling greens of Bard College, located just off the Hudson River in the quaint but practical little town of Annandale-on-Hudson, welcome music lovers once more. The attraction: Bard SummerScape, offering six weeks of classical music, academic programming and as always, a unique opera that you probably won't hear anywhere else anytime soon.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Opera Review: Of Chickens and Eggs

Apotheosis Opera explores Richard Strauss' Capriccio.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Friendly rivals: Olivier (Wayne Hu) and Flamand (Joe Palarca) square off in Capriccio.
Photography by Steve Malinski for Apotheosis Opera.
Capriccio, the fifteenth and final opera by Richard Strauss, is usually mounted by a large company (in a too-cavernous house) as a vehicle for a star soprano who wants to add Countess Madeleine to her resumé (presumably to stand next to the Marschallin and Arabella in a gallery of elegant Strauss heroines.) On Thursday night, a scrappy new production by Apotheosis Opera  revealed depth and charm in what is too often dismissed as a supercilious and superficial work.

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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.