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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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Concert Review: Rushing Into the Stratosphere

The Mariinsky Orchestra with Denis Matsuev at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Denis Matsuev returned to Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo ©
The second of the Mariinsky Orchestra's two concerts this week at Carnegie Hall was in some ways similar to the first.. Outside, a dozen protesters appeared again, chanting slogans about music director Valery Gergiev and his close connection with the current government of Russia. Inside, cameras were mounted in the rear of the parquet and on stage left to capture Mr. Gergiev and his forces, in the first digital broadcast of an orchestral concert from Carnegie Hall on Medici.TV.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Concert Review: From Exile to Silence

The Mariinsky Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Valery Gergiev. Photo by Alexander Shapunov for the Mariinsky Theater.
The Mariinsky Orchestra, currently on tour in North America, returned to New York on Tuesday night. So did the protesters, lining the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall. About a dozen in number, they held up placards in English and Cyrillic. They shouted at concert-goers, handed out fliers and chanted slogans. Their issue: the close connection between Mariinsky artistic director Valery Gergiev and Vladimir Putin, the Russian political leader whose 2014 invasion of the Ukraine and anti-homosexual agenda were the twin subjects of the protest.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Giovanni

Peter Mattei returns as Mozart's lust-driven nobleman.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Peter Mattei (with knife) and Luca Pisaroni are partners in crime in Don Giovanni.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Don Giovanni may be Mozart's crowning achievement. The opera is a deft blend of comedy and tragedy, with the Don's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the fair sex leading him to an inevitable, terrifying and fiery end. Mozart had written both comedies and tragedies at this point, and fearlessly blended light and dark in this brilliant score. The work combines grand musical ambition with hummable, unforgettable tunes.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Concert Review: The Crowd Pleasers

Maxim Vengerov at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Maxim Vengerov. Photo by Sheila Rock for Warner Brothers Classics.
A debut and a return were the story at the New York Philharmonic this week. Making his debut before a subscription audience was Long Yu, the Chinese maestro who leads three orchestras in that country. The return was that of violinist Maxim Vengerov, who had not played with the Philharmonic in nine years. His solo spotlight: the evergreen Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, an audience favorite that puts much of the burden squarely on the soloist's shoulders.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Opera Review: If Love is a Red Dress

Sonya Yoncheva triumphs in La Traviata.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Champagne supernova: Sonya Yoncheva in La Traviata at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Wednesday night,  the penultimate La Traviata of this current Metropolitan Opera season featured Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. In a thrilling performance, she met both the challenge of this role and this peculiar, demanding production, one which has divided audience members since its 2011 premiere.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Concert Review: The Power and the Glory

The New York Philharmonic presents Verdi's Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert. Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.

Ever since its premiere in 1874, Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Latin Mass for the Dead has been the subject of controversy and debate. Premiered in a church but planned for the concert hall, this work fuses Catholic liturgy with the awesome power of Verdi's dramatic music, creating a jet-fueled version of this very solemn text. On Friday night, New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert led a starry cast of soloists in his first New York performances of this enormoys work, the second of three scheduled this week.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Concert Review: Put Them Together, and What Have You Got?

The American Modern Ensemble plays SubCulture.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Samples of an electrocardiogram (pictured) were used in the New York premiere of
Robert Paterson's I See You at SubCulture.
The Chamber Music of America conference is in town and New York is thrumming to the sound of scraped, plucked, bowed and strummed fiddles of all shapes and sizes. On Thursday night in the subterranean depths of SubCulture, that fabulous concert venue tucked neatly under Bleecker Street, the American Modern Ensemble hosted a concert dubbed String Theory: a marathon showcase of modern chamber music, featuring three other chamber ensembles and a stack of world premieres.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Opera Review: No God, Only Religion

The Mariinsky Opera brings The Enchanted Wanderer to BAM.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The swing of things: Kristin Kapustinskaya (downstage) as Grusha in The Enchanted Wanderer.
Photo by the Mariinsky Opera © 2015 Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The arrival of the musical forces of the Mariinsky Theater in New York is always a memorable occasion. On Wednesday night, the company unveiled its 2007 production of Rodion Shchedrin's 2002 opera The Enchanted Wanderer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Outside the theater, a knot of protesters held up pro-Ukraine placards, decrying the 2013 Russian invasion of the Crimea and the  close allegiance of music director Valery Gergiev with political strongman Vladmir Putin. Inside, opera-goers were treated to an opera that despite its recent vintage, recalled the grayish stage works of the late Soviet era.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Superconductor Interview: Sarah Chang

The violinist on Bernstein, love stories and playing in New Jersey.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sarah Chang and friend. Photo © Sony Classical.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has made January a good time to be in the Garden State. For January is when the orchestra holds its two week annual orchestral festival, concentrating its concert programming around a single thematic idea or solo artist This year, Shakespeare is the focus of the festival, and the soloist is internationally known virtuoso violinist and New Jersey native Sarah Chang.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Opera Review: No New Tales To Tell

Les Contes d'Hoffmann is the Met's first revival of 2015.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He ain't got nobody. Vittorio Grigolo (center) in Les contes d'Hoffmann at the Met.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("The Tales of Hoffmann") is the final opera f Jacques Offenbach and the opera bouffe master's bid to be remembered as a creator of serious stage drama. It is a bittersweet meditation on love and literature, packed throughout with ravishing music. Based on stories by the poet/composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, the opera inserts the poet as protagonist in his own tales.  However, due to the fact that Offenbach died while working on the third act, there are many textual problems, compounded by performance traditions and the decisions of singers to add and insert arias into the work which have since become part of its fabric. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Concert Review: Reed It and Weep

Alan Gilbert wraps the Nielsen Project with the Clarinet Concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Reed man: New Philharmonic principal clarinet Anthony McGill and friend.
Photo by David Finlayson.
The Clarinet Concerto ranks among the finest late compositional achievements of Carl Nielsen, the Danish symphonist who remains his country's best known musical export. As such, it was a natural choice to end The Nielsen Project, the ambitious endeavor of New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert to record all of the composer's major works (the six symphonies, the concertos and several overtures) for CD release on the Da Capo label.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Concert Review: From Russia, With Flash

Daniil Trifonov returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
West Side story: The pianist Daniil Trifonov at play in New York.
Photo by Dario Acosta for Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics
The pianist Daniil Trifonov is just 23, and stands at the leading edge of a young crop of pianists who are making that most staid of instruments exciting again. On Friday, Jan. 2, Mr. Trifonov joined the New York Philharmonic for the orchestra's first concert of 2015, the second of four performances featuring Sergei Rachmaninoff's fearsome Piano Concerto No. 1.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 In Review: The Five Best Opera Performances

Severed heads and demonic visitors made for an entertaining year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Depravity: Salome (Camilla Nylund) with the head of Jokanaan (Alan Held)

at the climax of Salome at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
Photo by  Dominic M. Mercier © 2014 Opera Philadelphia/The Philadelphia Orchestra

Opera may be the trickiest of all art forms but it nonetheless remains the beating and sometimes bleeding heart of this blog. And this year, there haven't been quite as many opera reviews...but there have been some most impressive performances. Here's a look at 2014 in opera with the five best things I saw appearing below in chronological order.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les contes d'Hoffmann

Orgies. Doctors. Robots: The Met revives Les contes d'Hoffmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Olympia Mark II: A ballerina is whirled in the air in Act I of Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met explores the dark side of obsession and love with the return of Bartlett Sher's 2009 production of Jacques Offenbach's fantastical final opera.

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