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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review: The Five Best Orchestral Concerts

Our year-end wrapup continues with the best of the concert hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
When Lorin Maazel (left) dropped out of a planned pair of April concerts,
two substitutes (Valery Gergiev and Fabio Luisi) were brought in.
This image was the result and it's my favorite photoshop I did this year.. Photo alteration by the author.
Here at Superconductor, we go to a lot of concerts. And these are five that stood out in 2014 as our year-end best of rolls forward. From the Civil War hymns reimagined by David Lang (and played in the bowels of an aircraft carrier)  to the symphonic weirdness of Carl Nielsen heard at Avery Fisher Hall, these are the five finest from an interesting year at the symphony. Chronological order.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 In Review: The Five Best Recitals

We list the five best solo performances of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Framegrab of mezzo Joyce DiDonato at the Gowanus Ballroom.
Image © 2014 Warner Brothers Classics.
As this very strange year recedes into our memory, we're kicking off our year-end best-of on Superconductor. Stay tuned this week for more best-of posts, including the best operas and best symphony concerts of a very strange calendar year.

 It's tough out there when you're by yourself. It's also hard when you have just a pianist accompanying you. So with that in mind here are the best solo recitals (instrumental and vocal) that I saw in 2014.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Merry Widow

The Met warms up a new production of Lehár's operetta.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Renée Fleming as Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Danilo in Lehár's "The Merry Widow."
Susan Stroman's new production opens on December 31, 2014.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
In this new production of the evergreen Lehár operetta, Renée Fleming is Hanna Glawari, a rich and glamorous widow who becomes the object of affection for every ardent young suitor in turn-of-the-century Paris. Nathan Gunn is her ardent suitor Danilo.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Concert Review: Salvation Found Together

The Trinity Choir presents Messiah (again.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Singers of the Trinity Choir.
Photo by Leah Reddy for Trinity Church.
Handel's Messiah remains his blockbuster. It has remained in the repertory for 261 years, moving from a work performed to raise money for hospitals at Easter to an annual New York tradition in celebration of Christmas. Each year, its most traditional visitation comes at Trinity Church, which gave the work's New York premiere when it was considered "new music." That premiere was echoed by Wednesday night's performance, which also kicked off a month-long celebration of baroque music at this historic locale.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Concert Review: Truth in Advertising

The New York Philharmonic does Dohnányi/Dvořák.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A framegrab of Christoph von Dohnányi.
The venerable conductor Christoph Von Dohnányi finally arrived at the New York Philharmonic last week, just in time to conduct the second and final series of concerts in this year’s festival devoted to the combination of a single composer and conductor. (Yes, this year it was marketed as "Dohnányi/ Dvořák" but Mr. Dohnányi missed the first week as he was recovering from flu.) The aristocractic German conductor, whose long podium career stems from an ancestry that includes famed composer Erno von Dohnányi, looked hale and healthy as he stepped onto the podium at Avery Fisher Hall to conduct Friday night's concert.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Opera Review: Pocket Operas, Full of Riches

The Little Opera Theater of New York mounts two by Carlisle Floyd
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Waif at the door: Angela Mannino (left) Matthew Tuell (center) and Taylor  Putnam
in the title role in a tense moment from Markheim. 
Photo by Tina Buckman © 2014 The Little Opera Theater of New York.
Opera as an American art form has always been a tricky business. Although some works have found success on the limited stage, few composers from this country have achieved steady success in the art of music drama. One such exception is Carlisle Floyd. In a career spanning half a century and more, Mr. Floyd has written multiple masterworks, including Susannah (year) and Of Mice and Men. This week, the Little Opera Theater of New York explored two one-act operas by this composer in an engaging double bill, at the 59E59 Theaters.

Opera Review: Double Toil, Double Trouble

MSM Opera unearths Ernest Bloch's Macbeth
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head...Composer Ernst Bloch, creator of Macbeth. 
Photo © G. Schirmer, image alteration by the author. 
The ever-searching and ever curious musical minds that program operas for graduate level performers at Manhattan School of Music have really dug up a doozy. On Wednesday night, MSM presented artistic director Dona D. Vaughan's staging of Macbeth, an innovative adaptation of Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy by composer Ernst Bloch. This was the New York premiere of the opera in its original French text, and the first staging of the Bloch Macbeth in New York since 1973.

It was well worth the wait.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Opera Review: The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

Gotham Chamber Opera revives El Gato con Botas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Puss in Boots (left, inverted) is menaced by the Ogre (Kevin Burdette, right)
in El Gato con Botas. Photo by Richard Termine for Gotham Chamber Opera.
It is the sign of maturity for an opera company when it finally begins to produce revivals. This month, Gotham Chamber Opera revived El Gato con Botas (yes, that's "Puss In Boots"), the charming children's opera by Catalan compser Xavier Montsalvatge. Mounted at the picturesque Teatro del Museo del Barrio at the upper end of Fifth Avenue, this proved to be one of the best family-friendly performances of the current opera season, a delight for the eyes, ears and funny bone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Opera Review: Taking the Apple

Opera company bows at Carnegie Hall with Gugliemo Tell
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Revolutionary conductor Gianandrea Noseda brought William Tell
to Carnegie Hall on Dec. 7.
Presenting William Tell, the four-act grand opera that prematurely ended the compositional career of Gioachino Rossini in 1829 is no easy task. The opera is huge, with four epic acts that try an audience's patience even when conductors make judicious (and sometimes deep) cuts. The opera marks an important transition between Italian bel canto and the grand opera of the French stage. Its libretto recounts the feats of the title character and his role as a farmer turned crossbow-wielding revolutionary and Swiss folk hero. For an opera company making both its Carnegie Hall and New York debuts, Tell is an unlikely choice.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Return of New York City Opera?

New York's "other" opera company may be back from the dead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Back from the dead? The City Opera may be rising from the ashes.
Art by John Byrne from X-Men #135 © 1978 Marvel Comics.

In an astonishing early Christmas gift for the opera lovers of New York, the New York City Opera may be about to rise from the ashes of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An agreement was reached today between the remaining City Opera and New York City Opera Renaissance, a new 501(c) organization dedicated to resurrecting the destitute opera company and returning it to the campus of Lincoln Center.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Concert Review: Upside Down, But Under Control

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Upstairs at the Kimmel Center: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
The standard concert order (overture, then concerto, followed by symphony) was turned on its head on Friday night as the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin returned to Carnegie Hall for a program of Brahms, Haydn and Richard Strauss. Although this was a conservative, even mundane program, the high quality of execution by the Philly players made for compelling listening.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Concert Review: What's In a Name?

The Philharmonic opens Dohnányi/Dvořák...without Dohnányi.
by Paul J. Pelkonen's young conductor Krzysztof Urbánski.
Photo by Ole-Einar Andersen and Adresseavisen © 2014 Deutsche Grammophon
The choice to market a two-week festival around a particular artist can prove problematic--especially if that artist cancels a week before the event. That's what happened this week at the New York Philharmonic, where the orchestra's two-week Dohnányi/Dvořák festival got under way without conductor Christoph von Dohnányi. (Mr. Dohnányi cancelled on Nov. 26, as he was recovering from the flu. He is scheduled to return next week.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Opera Review: Tango in the Night

The second cast lights up the Met's new Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Suzanne Mentzer (left) and John Del Carlo (right) are the only cast members remaining
as the Met revives its new Le Nozze di Figaro this month.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's new Richard Eyre production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (which opened the 2014 season in September) marched back onto the boards last night with an its second cast, featuring two new singers in crucial parts and bass Erwin Schrott in the title role. This run also marks the return of Dutch conductor Edo de Waart, and his steady hand in the pit propelled the show forward with no loss of momentum: a necessity in this most kinetic of operatic comedies.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Opera Review: Anniversaries in Eden

Meredith Monk unveils On Behalf of Nature at BAM.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Meredith Monk performing On Behalf of Nature.
Photo from
A soft keening rose in the darkness. This tone developed softly, swelling in volume as other voices added themselves to its song. This was the subtle, aurally seductive opening of composer Meredith Monk's On Behalf of Nature, which premiered Wednesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Opera Review: The Very Long Goodbye

The Met goes back to ye olde Meistersinger.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A tender moment: James Morris and Annette Dasch in Act III of Die Meistersinger.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metrropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's current revival of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (seen last night in its season premiere) has a feeling of finality about it. Not only is this the last gasp for the company's picturesque Otto Schenk production, but it is also probably the last major Wagner role for James Morris, the Baltimore-born bass-baritone who won New Yorkers' hearts in the '80s, singing over 70 performances as Wotan in the Ring Cycle.

For Opera Goers, the Lottery is Over

Met Opera (quietly) alters rush ticket policy (again.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Much to this guy's relief, the Met is getting out of the lottery business.
New York Lottery image © New York State Lottery. Photo alteration by the author.
Earlier this year, Superconductor published a column regarding the Metropolitan Opera's implementation of a new rush ticket policy for the 2014-15 season which forced would-be opera goers to enter a daily lottery on the Met website. Last night, this blog discovered that as of Nov. 20, 2015, this lottery has been discontinued in favor of an online-only, first-come, first-serve policy.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Concert Review: A Feast With no Stuffing

Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Score! Jaap von Zweden on the podium.
Photo by Hans van der Woerde, courtesy IMG Artists.
Sometimes in the middle of a season, you need to hear a fresh approach. That maxim may have been in the mind of New York Philharmonic administrators when they booked Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden for two weeks this year. Mr. van Zweden has garnered awards in his run as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He brings a brisk clarity to the music, and as Wednesday night's concert showed, the players responded with alacrity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The six-hour echt Deutsch Wagner comedy returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The South African tenor Johan Botha returns in Die Meistersinger.
Photo © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera courtesy the Metropolitan Opera Press Department.
Of the ten major Richard Wagner operas, only one is a comedy. And it's the six-hour Meistersinger: a celebration of all things German.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Opera Review: Fezzes Are Cool

Juilliard Opera takes on Rossini's Il Turco in Italia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hyesang Park as Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Juilliard School.
The Juilliard Opera opened its 2014 season this week with a new production of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia, a genial comedy of manners that never caught fire with the opera-going public of the composer's day. Turco was viewed as an inferior sequel to the composer's wildly successful L'Italiana in Algeri and its libretto, chronicling the bed-hopping adventures of a licentious and married woman at a resort near Naples was considered immoral in Rossini's day. And it is a rarity: this was the first fully staged New York performance of the score since a New York City Opera production from 1978.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Concert Review: The Weight of the War

Jaap van Zweden leads the Shostakovich Eighth
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jaap van Zweden returned to the New York Philharmonic.
Photo © 2014 The Dallas Symphony Orchestra
The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has built a steady reputation in recent years, both with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (where he serves as music director) and a series of yearly guest visits to the New York Philharmonic. On Friday afternoon, Mr. van Zweiden led the latter orchestra in a program of Mozart and Shostakovich, contrasting the former's Sinfonia Concertante with the latter's heavyweight Symphony No. 8.

Concert Review: Providence, Prokofiev and Pirates

The San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Michael Tilson Thomas.
Photo © 2013 San Francisco Symphony.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra closed their two-night 2014 stand at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. The evening offered pretty much everything this ensemble does well. There was new music. There was a surprisingly gentle 20th century concerto. And there was an almost obligatory Big Work: the unexpurgated score of Maurice Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloë.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Concert Review: California's Dark

MTT and the San Francisco Symphony return with Mahler's Seventh.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mahler groove: conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
Photo © 2014 San Francisco Symphony.
When Gustav Mahler premiered his Symphony No. 7 in E minor in 1906, he set a series of problems and riddles that too often, baffle today's conductors, listeners and critics. On Wednesday night, the San Francisco Symphony returned to Carnegie Hall to play this difficult and uniquely weird five-movement work, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Jacques Lacombe

A Q & A with the leader of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jacques Lacombe.
Photo by Fred Stucker © 2014 New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Jacques Lacombe is always in motion. The energetic French Canadian conductor is in his penultimate year leading the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Garden State's most significant professional ensemble in a bold season that ranges from rare works by New Jersey-born composers to a deep exploration of Shakespeare as an inspiration for 20th century composers. The orchestra is also getting ready to release a new recording to join its thunderous Carmina Burana. Things are looking up.

The NJSO is unique in that it is an orchestra that is effectively "on tour" for most of its season, playing programs in Newark, Bergen, New Brunswick, Princeton and even Red Bank. But their home is still Newark, at the stately, modern New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) right downtown on Center Street.

In a telephone interview with Superconductor, Mr. Lacombe discussed the benefits and challenges of his position, and how working out of Newark, New Jersey might be better than you think.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Concert Review: Everest, Part One

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
Photo by Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
If the modern piano recital can be equated to the climbing of mountains, then Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier (Clavier simply means "keyboard") represents one of the steepest, highest and most dangerous slopes of all. For Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the iconoclastic French pianist whose mentors included Pierre Boulez, Thursday night's performance of Book I of this massive keyboard work at Carnegie Hall was the equivalent of a climb up Everest--without oxygen or Sherpa guides.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Concert Review: Stepping Into the Big Time

Associate Conductor Case Scaglione leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On the Case--Scaglione at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 The New York Philharmonic.
The position of associate conductor at a major symphony orchestra is not a glamorous job. They lead offstage brass ensembles (and choruses) in big works like Mahler's Resurrection and Strauss' Alpensinfonie. They run children's concerts. But once in a while, they take the main stage and lead an ensemble like the New York Philharmonic. For this week's subscription concerts (heard Wednesday night at the soon-to-be-renamed Avery Fisher Hall) it was the turn of NY Phil associate Case Scaglione to step onto the podium for a trio of 20th century classics.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Concert Review: The Prodigal Prodigy

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Chailly. Photo © 2014 Decca Classics/UMG
Sometimes the close historical connection between a composer and a major orchestra can lead to very special results. Such was the case Monday night at the soon-to-be-renamed Avery Fisher Hall, where Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in an evening dominated by the music of Felix Mendelssohn. The Gewandhaus is Germany's oldest orchestra, and Mendelssohn served as its music director from 1835 until his death in 1847.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Superconductor Interview: Thomas Crawford

The conductor of the American Classical Orchestra takes on Bach's Mass in B Minor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left: conductor Thomas Crawford. Right: Johann Sebastian Bach.
The conductor performs Bach's Mass in B Minor on Nov. 15.
Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor is one of the great choral epics, a setting of the full Catholic mass by this Lutheran composer. It is also a textually troubled work, written over a long period of the composer's life and never performed by Bach himself. For Thomas Crawford, music director of the American Classical Orchestra, taking on Bach's monumental Mass is the achievement of a lifetime. Conductor and ensemble will perform the work on November 15 at Alice Tully Hall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Concert Review: It's a Kind of Magic

The Orchestra of St. Luke's opens its 2014 at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pablo Heras-Casado. Photo by Josep Molina © 2014 Harmonia Mundi.

The Orchestra of St. Luke's marks four decades this year. They remain one of this city's most versatile ensembles, at home in everything from Mozart to Metallica. For their 2014 season opener at Carnegie Hall, principal conductor Pablo Heras-Casado designed a program that illustrated his ensemble's flexibility, featuring four different pieces in a jarring juxtaposition of styles. In the end, this program's combination of Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Dallapiccola and Mendelssohn, four different composers from different historical periods, proved unique and ultimately, satisfying.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Concert Review: Rowing With the Current

Joyce DiDonato sails into Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We can talk about Joyce: La DiDonato in a publicity still.
Image courtesy Warner Music Group.
When Joyce DiDonato last gave a recital in New York, she sang on the upper level of a metal shop located next to Brooklyn's heavily polluted Gowanus Canal. At Tuesday night's Carnegie Hall recital, the second performance of her 2014 Perspectives series, the diva was in a much more opulent setting. However, waterways--in this case the canals of Venice, Italy--continued to play an important role.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Concert Review: The Genesis Effect

The Oratorio Society of New York plays Haydn's Creation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Kent Tritle leading the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Tim Dwight © 2014 The Oratorio Society of New York. 
Franz Joseph Haydn is a pivotal figure in music. The father of the symphony and the string quartet, Haydn is too often pigeon-holed as a doddering relic, a composer who churned out similar works to keep a rich patron happy and whose music remains irrelevant today. With their season-opening performance of The Creation ("Die Schöpfung") on Monday night at Carnegie Hall, Kent Tritle and the Oratorio Society of New York showed that the truth about Haydn is something very different.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

The Met brings the Shostakovich opera back for the first time in 14 years.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's no moon...A scene from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
Photo by Winnie Klotz © 2000 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives the opera that outraged Josef Stalin, triggered the Soviet artistic purges of the 1930s, and forced Shostakovich to withdraw his Fourth Symphony.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Opera Review: Three Chords and the Truth

Isango Ensemble presents a souped-up Magic Flute.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano, arranger, ruler of the heavens: Pauline Malefane as the Queen of the Night
in Isango Ensemble's The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo.
Photo courtesy New Victory Theater/Shakespeare Theater Company.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute received a decidedly African makeover this week, with the arrival of Isango Ensemble's touring company at the New Victory Theater. (The performances, which run through November 9, are in association with Carnegie Hall's ongoing South Africa-oriented Ubuntu! festival.) Retitled The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo, this performance repurposed the opera's original Masonic parable as an exuberant celebration of South African township culture, with the score performed on...marimbas.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Concert Review: The Five-Headed Dragon

The Philadelphia Orchestra Resurrects the Mahler Second.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo by Marco Borggreve from the conductor's official site.
Half a century ago, a young conductor named Leonard Bernstein brought the symphonies of Gustav Mahler to the attention of concert-goes around the world. Since then, Mahler's symphonies, and particularly his Symphony No. 2 (known by the unofficial nickname Resurrection) have been a touchstone of the podium. On Halloween night, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin staked his claim as a Mahlerian on Bernstein's old stomping grounds: the Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Concert Review: Perennials and Premieres

The New York Philharmonic plays Copeland, Rouse and Ravel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New York Philharmonic first chair flute Robert Langevin.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 The New York Philharmonic.
In terms of the long marathon that is the New York classical music season, this week;s set of concerts at the New York Philharmonic should have been nothing out of the ordinary. There were two New York premieres on the slate.  Guest conductor Leonard Slatkin was a familiar face. Thursday night's concert, the first of three this week at Avery Fisher Hall, was one of the more interesting programs of this young season, focusing entirely on music of the last century.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mastersingers of New York

or "The Big Score."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
My new (well, gently used!) score of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Photo by the author.
Twenty years ago, I first encountered Wagner's Die Meistersinger. I had just graduated college. One day, Mom and I went to lunch in Greenwich Village, and visited Academy Records, which was still located on a shelf behind the register at Academy Books. My graduation present: that first recording of Wagner's Ring cycle (the Boulez, later traded in for the Haitink and still later for the Solti.) Since Mom was feeling generous that day, she also let me have an opera I knew next to nothing about at the time: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Of Milestones and Practical Matters

or, the status of Superconductor at a million-and-a-half clicks.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Image from Monopoly © Parker Brothers.
It's been a pretty amazing run since a journalist sitting in a New Jersey hotel room on New Year's Eve 2009 decided to take this blog to a "semi-daily" format and run it like a regular (or decidedly irregular) classical music publication. Today, we broke 1,500,000 page views on Blogger. And this month, over 57,000 browsers have clicked and read our content, nearly double what our readership was just one year ago.

Successful? Sure. By the standards of this 21st century Internet economy, not bad. But it hasn't been easy. And frankly, we need your help.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Concert Review: The Struggle and the Reward

Alan Gilbert takes on the Bruckner Eighth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Collaborators: Yefim Bronfman (at keyboard) and conductor Alan Gilbert.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 the New York Philharmonic.
The last completed work of a major composer has a special place in the music repertory. Last Friday night at the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert led a program featuring the penultimate utterances of Béla Bartók and Anton Bruckner: the former's Piano Concerto No. 3 and the latter's Symphony No. 8.  If there is a common ground between these works, both came as the composers neared the end of their respective lives, battling illness and a lack of understanding from their respective musical communities.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Concert Review: Of Man...and Beast

Cameron Carpenter plays Town Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Organ master Cameron Carpenter and his large touring friend.
Photo © 2013 Sony Classical
The organ is among the most versatile keyboard instruments, capable of simulating the sound of a whole symphony orchestra or forcing church congregations to their collective knees. On Thursday night, Cameron Carpenter brought his International Touring Organ to Town Hall, in a concert that pushed the boundaries of the repertory for his instrument.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Concert Review: The Belgian Dip

The NJSO opens its regular season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jacques Lacombe leading the NJSO.
Photo by Fred Stucker © 2010 The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra spends much of its time off the radar of New York's classical music cognoscenti. Yet, at the start of music director Jacques Lacombe's penultimate season at the helm, this Garden State ensemble is playing at a very high level indeed.

Concert Review: It's All in the Context

The Mozart Great Mass in C Minor at St. Ignatius Loyola.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The St. Ignatius Loyola Choir and Orchestra.
Photo by Rachel Papo © 2014 Sacred Music in a Sacred Space.
Does the power and majesty of a sacred choral work need to be performed in a church? That's the question posed by Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, the series of concerts held annually at St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue. Featuring the church's own chorus and orchestra under the baton of music director K. Scott Warren, this series opened its 26th season Wednesday night with Mozart's Great Mass in C minor and Haydn's Symphony No. 97.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Concert Review: It Happened in an Apartment

The return of the salon concert in New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A pianist at home: Joel Fan. Photo courtesy Inverne Price.
In the 19th century, the salon was fertile ground for the development of what we today call "classical music." Chamber artists, virtuoso pianists and composers would gather together for social evenings at each other's homes in Paris and Vienna. Playing together and exchanging ideas, they helped build a culture that laid the groundwork for today's staid concert halls and opera houses.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Opera Review: Sailing the Seas of Hatred

As protestors shout, the Met unveils The Death of Klinghoffer
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Klinghoffers (Alan Opie, in wheelchair, Michaela Martins, center) confront terrorists 
Rambo (Ryan Speedo Green, with rifle) and Omar (Jesse Kovarsky, in red shirt)
 aboard the Achille Lauro in Act II of The Death of Klinghoffer. 
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera opened a month ago, but Monday night's company premiere of John Adams' troubling 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer was the real opening night, the  most significant event of this young season. The opera, offered in a handsome, disquieting staging by director Tom Morris in collaboration with the English National Opera is a strong argument for more stagings of modern opera by contemporary composers. This is a sharply executed and starkly beautiful production that offered genuine food for thought.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Concert Review: Underdog Day Afternoon

Alan Gilbert conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lullaby of Broad Streeet? Alan Gilbert.
Photo of Alan Gilbert by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic.
Background photo of Broad Street © Google Earth. Photoshop by the author.
When Alan Gilbert was elevated as the new music director the New York Philharmonic six years ago, it was recognized as an attempt by that venerable orchestra to embrace change in the new century. This week, Mr. Gilbert visited another orchestra coming out of its own period of adjustment: the Philadelphia Orchestra. In recent years, the Broad Street band has overcome bankruptcy, labor strife and the installation of its own young music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Concert Review: By the Time He Gets to Phoenix

Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen in action.
Photo courtesy toe Los Angeles Philharmonic.
On Thursday night, Esa-Pekka Salonen returned to the podium of Avery Fisher Hall to lead the New York Philharmonic in the first of three concerts this week. The acclaimed Finnish composer, who rose to fame in this country as the former leader of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was the first major guest conductor at the Philharmonic this young season. The program: early works by two composers who were also famous conductors: Ludwig van Beethoven and Igor Stravinsky.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Concert Review: The Easy Life in Garmisch

Leon Botstein explores the home life of Richard Strauss.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Symphonia Domestica: the Strauss family (Richard, Pauline, Franz) in the year 1910.
Photo © 1910 the Estate of Richard Strauss.
The American Symphony Orchestra's yearly Vanguard series is an opportunity for music director Leon Botstein to shine a flashlight into the dark corners of the repertory, unearthing rare (or in some cases, unheard) treasures for the pleasure of its Carnegie Hall audience. Wednesday night was Dr. Botstein's yearly excursion into the lesser-known repertory of Richard Strauss, the composer of tone poems and operas whose 150th birthday was celebrated earlier this year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Opera Review: A Beard Too Far

Gotham Chamber Opera opens with a double bill by Martinů.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Me and my shadow: Jarett Ott (left) and Joseph Beutel (right) flank Jenna Seladie in Alexandre Bis.
Photo © 2014 Richard Termine, courtesy Gotham Chamber Opera.
On Tuesday night, the maverick Gotham Chamber Opera opened its fourteenth season at the Gerald Lynch Theater. The program: a pair of operas by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. Alexandre Bis (1937) and Comedy on the Bridge (1935) were written in those turbulent years before Nazi Germany marched troops into the relatively new nation of Czechoslovakia, an event which would force Martinů himself to escape, first to France and then to America in 1941. These one-act comedies burn with a nervous comic energy, reacting to the insanity of the 1930s with bursts of absurd humor. Under Neal Goren's baton, Martinů's excellent qualities as a composer came to the fore, giving New Yorkers a new appreciation of this composer.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Death of Klinghoffer

The Met presents John Adams' controversial opera for the first time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985.
In the lead-up to the 2014 season Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb's decision to stage John Adams' 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer has drawn controversy, outrage and (on opening night) protests in front of the opera house. Mr. Gelb responded to the controversy by cancelling both the Live in HD telecast and the NPR radio simulcast of the show, so the only way to see or hear Klinghoffer is by going to the opera house.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Concert Review: Meet the Residents

Christopher Rouse and Lisa Biatashvili at the New York Philharmonic. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lisa Batiashvili and friend.
Photo courtesy the Berlin Philharmonic.
The residency program, an announced affiliation with an artist or composer is a key component of schedule-building for large orchestras. At the New York Philharmonic, resources are deep enough to allow the orchestra to have both an artist-in residence (this year, violionist Lisa Batiashvili) and a composer-in-residence (for the past three years, Christopher Rouse). This week's program, heard on Saturday night at Avery Fisher Hall allowed listeners to experience both.

Opera Broadcast Review: A Dame to Kill For

Anna Netrebko shines in Macbeth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The blood couple: Željko Lučić (top) and Anna Netrebko in Macbeth.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2007 production of Verdi's Macbeth has, until this season, lacked a soprano capable of singing, really singing the fearsomely difficult role of Lady Macbeth. This season, the Lady arrived in the unlikely form of Anna Netrebko, the Russian diva known for bel canto, particularly the operas of Donizetti. On Saturday afternoon, in the Met's first Live in HD transmission of the new season, Ms. Netrebko simply owned this challenging part, at the forefront of a stellar revival under the baton of principal conductor Fabio Luisi.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Concert Review: Big Wheel Keep On Turnin'

The NJSO opens with Carmina Burana.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The conductor Jacques Lacombe.
Photo by Daniel Cossette © 2014 Canadian Broadcasting Company
Newark, New Jersey became the focal point of high culture on Friday night when the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra opened its 2014 season at Prudential Hall, the gorgeous and unlikely concert venue that has been the ensemble's home since 1997. The occasion was a gala evening with former governors, politicos and a crowd of well-dressed donors, all gathered to hear Jacques Lacombe lead his troops through Carmina Burana, Carl Orff's 1937 song cycle based on medieval Bavarian texts.

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