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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.

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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Concert Review: Boom, Crash, Opera

The Belgrade Philharmonic comes to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Željko Lučić and conductor Muhai Tang emote at Carnegie Hall.
Photo courtesy the Belgrade Philharmonic.
Belgrade, capital of Serbia and former capital of Yugoslavia, is a city rebuilding itself after a decade of warfare. On Thursday night, the Belgrade Philharmonic (Beogradska filharmonija) an orchestra that was banned from international performance for ten years played Carnegie Hall. The concert was the final stop on its current North American tour, which is part of an effort to build a modern concert hall in Belgrade. Under music director Muhai Tang, the orchestra has renewed itself, and offered New Yorkers an enthusiastic program of Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Sibelius.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Concert Review: Composer, Interrupted

The Berlin Philharmonic plays Schumann and Haas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle makes a mysterious gesture.
Photo © 2014 Berliner Philharmoniker
Although Robert Schumann lived and wrote 150 years ago, his symphonies are still fresh and revolutionary, especially when conductor and orchestra choose the original orchestrations over the composer's later revisions. On Monday night at Carnegie Hall, Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic concluded their season-opening four-concert stand with Schumann's Third and Fourth Symphonies, bookending a new work by composer Georg Friedrich Haas.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Concert Review: A Mind Beside Itself

Sir Simon Rattle conducts Schumann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle.
Photo courtesy the Berlin Philharmonic © 2014 Berlin Philharmonic.
Under its two most recent music directors, the Berlin Philharmonic established itself as one of the most formidable and flexible orchestras in Europe. Yet a strong sense of tradition and devotion to German music remains. On Sunday night, the orchestra addressed that tradition with the first of two Carnegie Hall concerts surveying the four symphonies of composer and critic Robert Schumann.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Concert Review: Bel Canto Over Brooklyn

Joyce DiDonato cleans up at the Gowanus Canal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joyce DiDonato.
Photo by Pari Dukovic for Warner Brothers Classics.
The Gowanus Canal, that perennially toxic waterway that side-winds through north-west Brooklyn is not usually associated with opera. On Friday night at the Gowanus Ballroom (a space created from the upper loft level of Serett Metalworks just off of 9th St.) mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brought the music of 19th century Naples to this funky, out-of-the-way locale.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Concert Review: A Very Different Drummer

The New York Philharmonic completes its Nielsen cycle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert in flight. Photo by Chris Lee © 2014 The New York Philharmonic.
Carl Nielsen is Denmark’s most famous composer. His six symphonies are only occasionally encountered in the concert hall, odd and occasionally obtuse in their construction. At once too strange for the standard repertory and too conventional for the modernists of the 20th century, these works are beloved in Scandinavia and revered by fearless musicologists, conductors and audience members lucky enough to hear them played live.

Concert Review: Dance Fever

The Berlin Philharmonic plays Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Berlin Philharmonic music director Sir Simon Rattle.
Photo © 2014 The Berlin Philharmonic.
Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall was the opening gala, with red carpet, superstar violinist (Anne-Sophie Mutter) and a truncated one-act concert before a glittering crowd. Thursday, however was the real opening night, the first repertory concert of the season with the Berlin Philharmonic. This concert featured a reprise of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, paired with a complete performance of the full 1910 score of Stravinsky's Firebird.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Concert Review: The End is the Beginning

Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic open Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anne-Sophie Mutter, 2014-15 Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist
played at opening night. Photo by Harald Hoffmann for Deutsche Grammophon.
© 2014 Universal Classics/UMG
The opening of Carnegie Hall is always a festive occasion, with red carpet laid down under the famous portico on W. 57th St., a black-tie crowd and this year, a gala dinner on the Hall's new grassy roof deck. However, the main attraction this year was that the season was opening with the Berlin Philharmonic, in town for a week of concerts, a residency that will launch not only this year's Carnegie season but Lincoln Center's own White Light Festival next week.

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