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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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Reviews 2016: Opera

The best productions and singing that kept vigil in a dark year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Vigil in a wilderness of mirrors: Nina Stemme (center) in Tristan und Isolde.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
This was an interesting year for opera, marked by Rossini rarities, 18th century operas worthy of the occasional revival and a season-opening Tristan und Isolde that left audiences enraptured and traditionalists confused. Plus the Met did some wish fulfillment (for this writer anyway, finally staging Rossini's Guillaume Tell. Here are ten of the many fine opera performances reviewed on Superconductor in the year 2016.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Opera Review: Journey's End In Lovers' Meeting

L'Amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susanna Philips (top) Tamara Mumford (left) and Eric Owens in L'Amour de Loin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Last night, the Metropolitan Opera played its last 2016 performance of Kaija Saariaho's opera L'Amour de Loin. This the first opera by a female composer mounted at the Met since 1903, and it served as a kind of manifesto for this company's mission in this uncertain new century.L'Amour de Loin (the title means "Love From Afar") is Ms. Saariaho's first opera, and it premiered at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in 2000. This production featured Susanna Philips and Eric Owens, American stars who have risen to prominence in the last decade, as well as the stage direction of Robert Lepage, an artist whose successes at the Met are still overshadowed by the colossal failure of his staging of Wagner's Ring.

Concert Review: Swimming Against the Third Stream

The New York Philharmonic premieres (most of) Wynton Marsalis' new symphony.
Trombonist Joseph Alessi was the featured soloist at the New York Philharmonic on Wednesday night.
Photo by Chris Lee. Copyright 2016 The New York Philharmonic.
In 1957, the nexus between the tradition of European classical music and American jazz was dubbed the "third stream" by the late composer Gunther Schuller. On Wednesday night at the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert and his orchestra essayed this dangerous crossing with the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ new symphony The Jungle (Symphony No. 4). It shared the program with works by Aaron Copland and William Bolcom that also explored this juxtaposition of musical styles.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Year in Reviews 2016: Recitals and Chamber Music

We look at the best intimate concerts of a troubled 2016.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Danish String Quartet played last works by Shostakovich and Schubert, a highlight
of 2016. Photo © 2016 The Danish String Quartet.
2016 may have been a difficult year, with a lot of musical high points. Here, Superconductor cherry-picks the ten best small scale vocal recitals, chamber concerts and piano recitals of the year that was, presented in chronological order. All hyperlinks connect to Superconductor reviews written by Paul J. Pelkonen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Year In Reviews 2016: Orchestral Concerts

The best bombast of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle did his last tour with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Photo © 2016 Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall.
Although this has been a dreadful year in many ways, it's been a good year for classical concerts. Here are ten memorable orchestra concerts reviewed on Superconductor in 2016. And we promise, nobody died during them. As always, links lead to full reviews, all written on Superconductor.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Time is Illusion: Life, Death and Superconductor

A holiday reflection on the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
George Michael, 1963-2016
I've had a lot of deaths in my life, of family, friends, and people close to me. My father died on Feb. 11 1985. My uncle on Nov. 19 1999. My mother on March 8 2005. I used to obsess about these dates like I was living in perpetual Lent. A  smartfew years ago, my very therapist pointed out to me that because of leap days every four years, what actual day I was mourning had shifted by one or two or three. That got me thinking about the nature of time and the death of George Michael yesterday was the impetus of this post.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Roméo et Juliette

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life..."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Publicity photo of Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo as Juliette and her Roméo.
Photo by Kristian Schuller for the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met unveils a new take on Shakespeare's classic story of doomed young love, with Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau singing Charles Gounod's gorgeous music. This new production by Bart Sher was first seen at Salzburg and La Scala. It arrives at the Met on New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Opera Review: The Lion of Babylon

Plácido Domingo returns to the Met in Nabucco.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
King for a day: Placido Domingo raves in the title role of Nabucco.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The third act of Placido Domingo's long career has entered its late summer. Starting in the last decade, the superstar tenor began taking on baritone roles in Verdi operas, expanding his repertory at a time when most singers decide to retire. The title role in the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Verdi's Nabucco is the fourth Verdi baritone part that he has sung at the Met since 2009.  Mr. Domingo is now 75, but on Thursday night he  brought fresh energy and a bold stage presence to the role.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Mozart Project: La Clemenza di Tito

A plea for mercy or expediency in Mozart's final opera seria.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Roman Emperor Titus. Portrait by Bernardino Campi. 
It's funny how necessity can make an artist productive. That was the case in 1791, the last year of Mozart's life. In July, the composer (already hard at work on a new piece called Die Zauberflöte) received a commission from one Domenico Guardasoni, to write a new opera celebrating the impending coronation of Leopold II. The Hapsburg ruler was already the Holy Roman Emperor, and he was about to be installed as as the King of Bohemia. The result, banged out in just 18 days was La clemenza di Tito, which premiered in Prague on Sept. 6. The opera represents Mozart's last thoughts on the genre of opera seria--he died on December 5 of that same year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Concert Review: Still Frozen After All These Years

Christopher Dylan Herbert revives Winterize.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
In the bleak midwinter: Christopher Dylan Herbert sings Winterreise
in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo by the author.
Four years ago, New York baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert gave the first performances of Winterize, a unique "movable" outdoor performance of the Schubert song cycle Winterreise. This morning, he revived his work among the bare branches of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Armed with portable radios playing the piano accompaniment to these twenty-four songs, audiences follow Mr. Herbert around the gardens, taking the "winter's journey" with him, a trip that starts with lost love and ends in hypothermia, madness and (presumably) death.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sending Don Carlos To Therapy

An in-depth look at Verdi's longest and most troubled opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Placido Domingo in Don Carlos.
Cover art © 1990 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos is an opera that is beloved by Verdi lovers, but one that took a very long time to find its audience. Based on a searing play by Friedrich Schiller. Don Carlos was originally composed for the 1869 season for the grand stage of the Paris Opera. The premiere of its initial French version was a late-career failure for the Italian composer, one of three largely unsuccessful attempts that Verdi made in his life to conquer the hearts of Parisian opera-goers. (The other two, Gerusalemme and Le Vepres Siciliennes are less well known.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Concert Review: Mahler's Bones

Christian Gerhaher sings Gustav Mahler's lieder.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gerold Hubner (left) and Christian Gerhaher in recital at Wigmore Hall.
Photo by Simon Jay Price © 2014 Wigmore Hall.
The name Gustav Mahler conjures up mighty images. Enormous choral forces, battling huge orchestras as they shouti in terror or triumph. A giant hammer, slamming out a crushing blow of fate at the close of his Sixth Symphony. Or the terrors of the nursery and the grave, present in equal proportion in his Fourth. None of those elements were present on Saturday night, as the longtime pair of baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber played a program of Mahler's lieder for a rapt audience at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Concert Review: A Warrior For Her Art

Joyce DiDonato sings of war and peace.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joyce DiDonato sings of war and peace at Carnegie Hall, with dancer Manuel Palazzo (right.)
Photo by Chris Lee © 2016 courtesy Carnegie Hall press department.
The Carnegie Hall Perspectives series provides artists with a blank slate, a freedom to mount dream projects upon the hallowed boards of the Perelman Stage. On Thursday night, it was Joyce DiDonato's turn. The mezzo-soprano offered In War & Peace, a program of baroque arias with period ensemble Il Pomo D'Oro. To it, she added back projections, rock concert lighting and interpretive dance, all elements as foreign to this staid environment as the cutting ring of a cell phone.

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 Gift Guide: Big Box Sets For the Music Collector

There's nothing like Mozart  for the holidays.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The business model of the music business has changed. Classical labels still do tons of reissues but usually in the form of huge boxed sets that attempt to show an overview of artist's life, an orchestra's journey or a conductor's approach to his work. Thanks to their tireless efforts, there are still a lot of options if you want to leave a doorstop-sized boxed set under a loved one's tree. Here are the best box sets to come out in 2016.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Concert Review: Saturn's Timely Return

Jiří Bělohlávek leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek. Photo by Peter Kadlec.
The schedule of the New York Philharmonic is a complex entity, bringing together soloists and conductors on the stage of David Geffen Hall and elsewhere, often in unique and unprecedented combinations. Last week's subscription program (heard Saturday evening featured an unusual combination: a conductor who hadn't appeared with the orchestra in thirty years, a pianist of note, and an overture not performed by the ensemble since 1983.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Magic Flute

The birdcatcher returns to the Met to enchant the kids in Mozart's family-friendly fable.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Christopher Maltman returns to the role of Papageno in this year's revival of Mozart's The Magic Flute.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met offers up this year's holiday production, a shorter English-language version of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Apparently, some bloggers have jokingly dubbed this version of the opera The Magic Piccolo.  The nerve of some people...

Friday, December 9, 2016

Opera Review: Blood and Chocolate

LoftOpera mounts Verdi's Macbeth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head: Macbeth (Craig Irvin, center)
sees Banco's ghost in Verdi's Macbeth. 
Photo by Robert Altman © 2016 LoftOpera.
LoftOpera, that entertaining and ambitious company co-founded by step-siblings Brianna Maury and Daniel Ellis-Ferris has capped their 2016 season with their first grand opera, a new production of Verdi's Macbeth. For this show, Loft made an inspired if chilly choice, a long, high, recently renovated industrial space located in the heart of Brooklyn Navy Yard. The building will soon to be home to the Mast Brothers' new chocolate factory.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Concert Review: A Farewell to Childhood

Daniil Trifonov returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniil Trifonov in performance at the Verbier Festival.
Photo by Nicolas Brodard © 2016 The Verbier Festival.
To track the evolution of an artist is an extraordinary thing. For the Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. Mr. Trifonov made his Carnegie Hall debut at 22. On Wednesday night he returned to that famous venue with a blazing recital that indicates his evolution from boy virtuoso to an extraordinary, adult artist. Adding to the sense of the occasion were cameras from, making the performance available for viewing by an international audience (for free through March 7, 2017.)

Hvorostovsky Withdraws from Met Production

The singer has bowed out of the upcoming Eugene Onegin for health reasons.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Photo from his website
This morning, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky announced that he is withdrawing from fully staged opera performances "for the foreseeable future."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Opera Review: The Girl Who Has (Almost) Everything

Patricia Racette brings her Salome to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A head in the opera business: Patricia Racette holds the severed head of Jokaanan (John the Baptist)
in the climactic scene of Salome. Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
When the Metropolitan Opera announces a cast change in the weeks leading up to an important mid-season revival, opera critics sometimes get nervous. (Your humble blogger is no exception.) At the Met on Monday night where the company's first 2016 performance of the Richard Strauss shocker  Salome was about to take place, a sense of foreboding, even trepidation hung over New York's largest opera house. Patrons crossing the plaza were unusually subdued. This revival (originally meant to feature soprano Catherine Naglestad) now starred a familiar Met trouper: soprano Patricia Racette. Ms. Racette, who has been acclaimed in past seasons but more hit-and-miss in recent years, had never sung this role before in New York.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Concert Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Hear Them

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Semyon Bychkov in action. Photo from the artist's website.
A visit to the former New Amsterdam from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam's best known musical export is always an occasion for rejoicing. On Wednesday night, Semyon Bychkov and the Dutch players paired the New York premiere of Theatrum bestiarum by Detlev Glanert with Gustav Mahler's sprawling Symphony No. 5 in their return to the big stage of Carnegie Hall.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Nabucco

Plácido Domingo is the king of Babylon in Verdi's hokey but effective Old Testament opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Plácido Domingo (seen here as Oreste in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride.) sings the title role in Verdi's Nabucco. 
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera
Verdi's early opera is an Old Testament epic with a towering title role and a chorus that you will never forget. For this revival, Placído Domingo steps into the gold boots of Nebuchednezzar, king of Babylon, captor of Jews and finally, convert to the faith.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bacharach to the Future

Some reflections on a lost album and my early love of music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Burt Bacharach. © 1971 A & M Records.
Ever have one of those moments where music makes you travel back in time? That happened to me last night around 1am, when I sat down very late, put up my feet, put on my big headphones and listened to the 1971 record Burt Bacharach, the fourth studio album from the composer and arranger who has been part of this country's musical landscape for an amazing sixty-four years.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Concert Review: First Cake, Then Ice Cream

The pianist Boris Berezovsky returns to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Boris Berezovsky onstage at the Mariinsky Theater..
Photo copyright 1996
When the Russian virtuoso pianist Boris Berezovsky last gave a recital in New York City, Bill Clinton was president and Zankel Hall didn't evenexist. So Tuesday night marked the pianists debut at Carnegie’s modern subterranean venture, billed with a finger-busting program of piano études by Bartók, Ligeti and Liszt.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Salome

The opera that made Richard Strauss a household name and shocked the world.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Head-hunter: Patricia Racette is Salome in the Met's new revival of Strauss' opera.
Photo © San Antonio Opera.
Salome is a white-knuckle ride down the road of excess, leading not to the palace of wisdom but to depravity and death. And yes the Met has scheduled performances of it right around the holidays.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: L'Amour de Loin

Long distance love is the subject of Kaija Saariaho's 21st century opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Keep 'em separated: Susanna Philips and Eric Owens in L'Amour de Loin. 
Image © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Sixteen years after its Salzburg premiere and fourteen years after the first North American performances, the Metropolitan Opera finally stages L'Amour de Loin ("Love From Afar") by contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, in a new production by Robert Lepage.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Concert Review: A Game of Chairs

Iván Fischer leads (and reseats) the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Iván Fischer leads the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo courtesy the New York Philharmonic © 2014 The Budapest Festival Orchestra.
The seating of an orchestra is usually at the discretion of the conductor. On Wednesday night, visitors to David Geffen Hall for the first of three concerts featuring Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer and the New York Philharmonic were confronted with a radical rearrangement of the orchestra. The stage risers, almost never seen at a Philharmonic concert, were in use, putting the musicians in tiers with the basses at the top, dead center and directly opposite the conductor's podium.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Opera Review: The Girl in the Bubble

Kristin Opalais returns as Manon Lescaut.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cast aside: Kristin Opalais in the last scene of Manon Lescaut. 
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
When the Metropolitan Opera opened its new Richard Eyre production of Manon Lescaut last February, it stirred up a firestorm of criticism. Mr. Eyre moved the action ahead to France in the 1940s, an occupied and defeated nation under the Nazi boot. On Monday night, this revival featuring Kristin Opalais in the role that she created last season seemed particularly on point, its oppressive sets, decadent, doomed atmosphere and the libretto's treatment of women as a commodity a set of mirrors for these troubled times.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Concert Review: A Pair of Nines Beats (Almost) Anything

Two different takes on Beethoven's last symphony. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
From a drawing of Friday evening's performance of Glen Roven's Goodnight Moon.
Art by Joan Chiverton. Used with the kind permission of Glen Roven © 2016 Joan Chiverton.
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor is a difficult work to bring forth, with an heroic length that exceeds seventy minutes. The last movement requires four soloists and a chorus that can handle Beethoven's complex polyphony, the creation of a deaf composer who valued sound over ease of singing. On Friday and Saturday, two different arts organizations took on this titan, with the National Chorale offering it at Avery Fisher Hall and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presenting the Ninth on Carnegie Hall's main stage.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Concert Review: The Dutchman Takes the Helm

Jaap van Zweden leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden takes aim. Photo by Chris Lee © 2016 The New York Philharmonic.
The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has become something of an easy target for certain classical music commentators ever since agreeing, earlier this year to take over the duties of music director at the New York Philharmonic. Mr. van Zweden's term begins in 2018, but this week's concerts gave New York music lovers a chance to hear the heir apparent at the controls of the orchestra that he will steer well into the coming decade.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Concert Review: And Then Things Got Difficult

Bezhod Abduraimov makes his main stage Carnegie Hall debut.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Bezhod Abdumairov and friend.
Photo courtesy Harrison Parrott.
In February of 2015, the young Uzbek pianist Bezhod Abduraimov made his debut at Carnegie Halls Weill Recital Hall. On Thursday night, Mr. Abduraimov made his second visit o the Hall that Music  Built. This concert marked his debut on the big stage of Stern Auditorium, with a fierce and intense program of works by German, Austrian and Russian composers.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Opera Review: We Don't Have To Take Our Shoes Off

Juilliard Opera lifts off with Jonathan Dove's Flight.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stuck in the aurport with you: the Refugee (Jakub Józef Orliński, left) and anunhappy couple in a scene from Flight. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor for The Juilliard School. 
It is rare to encounter a contemporary opera that is, at once musically rich, dramatically moving and funny as hell. Such an opera is Jonathan Davis' 1998 opus Flight, which landed on the stage of Juilliard's Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Wednesday night. This is the second New York production of this contemporary masterpiece, with a witty libretto owing something to Lorenzo Da Ponte. Flight is a comedy for our modern age, chronicling the travails of anonymous travelers trapped in an airport terminal overnight, their trips delayed by an electrical storm.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Concert Review: Dynamite from Fairyland

Yannick Nézet-Séguin returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin brought the Philadelphia Orchestra back to Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Jan Regan for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Philadelphia Orchestra are regular visitors to the great stage of Carnegie Hall. Tuesday night saw the band's first New York appearance this season with music director Yannick Nézet-Seguin at the helm. The dynamic young Quebeçois conductor is one of the genuine podium stars of this new century, drawing the focus of New Yorkers since he accepted the job of successor to James Levine (starting in 2020) at the Metropolitan Opera. His loyal troops were given a solid program that played to their strengths: a Prokofiev concerto bookended by two major works from Maurice Ravel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Concert Review: An Unexpected Party

Renée Fleming premieres Letters from Georgia by Kevin Puts.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Petunias by Georgia O'Keeffe © 1924 The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
Most concerts at Alice Tully Hall are pretty staid affairs. Refreshments are usually limited to the occasional output of the American Table Restaurant and a standard Lincoln Center refreshment bar offering hot coffee and maybe the occasional little sandwich. So it was a welcome surprise to this reviewer to show up for Monday night's concert featuring the Eastman Philharmonia and soprano Renée Fleming and to find the glass lobby on the corner of W. 65th and Broadway the site of an elegant and catered soirée.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Concert Review: Not Just Greasy Kids' Stuff

Marc-André Hamelin at the 92nd St. Y.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pianist Marc-André Hamelin returned to New York on Saturday night.
Photo © 2016 Hyperion Records courtesy Hemsing Associates.
A visit from the pianist Marc-André Hamelin is an occasion for happines among New Yorkers. The Canadian-born, Boston-based virtuoso has recorded a vast array of difficult works by the likes of Liszt, Alkan and Godowsky. More recently, he has recently turned his attention to the more familiar works of Haydn and Mozart. Saturday night's recital at the 92nd St. Y's Kaufman Auditorium was focused almost exclusively on the latter, presenting six Mozart pieces in a brief but satisfying concert.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Concert Review: When Invisible Pirates Attack

Mozart and Ravel at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pianist Danil Trifonov (center) plays Mozart with conductor Vladimir Jurowski (upper right)
and members of the New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee © 2016 The New York Philharmonic.
The conductor Vladimir  Jurowski is the music director of the London Philharmonic and an occasional visitor at the Met, where he is called on to untangle knotty operas like Richard Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten. This week at the New York Philharmonic, he faced a program requiring precision in all of its aspects, from the arch accompaniment written in the Mozart Concerto No. 25 to the vast mythic landscapes of the Ravel ballet Daphnis et Chlöe, itself that composer's most ambitious work and a miracle of orchestration written on a grand and encompassing scale.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Concert Reviews: The Children of Brahms

The Berlin Philharmonic explores the roots of atonality.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle. Image © Berlin Philharmonic for the Digital Concert Hall.
Although the composer Johannes Brahms lived a long life, he went to his grave a bachelor and without issue. However, it can be argued that the composers of the Second Viennese School are in some ways his spiritual children. Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils Anton Webern and Alban Berg took Brahms' ideas to a logical extreme, with short, aphoristic orchestral pieces that themselves signalled a new kind of music. On Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic offered an ambitious program at Carnegie Hall, placing all four composers side by side to see if this connection would become evident.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon Lescaut

Anna Netrebko takes on Puccini in the title role of Manon Lescaut
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Netrebko and Marcelo Àlvarez are down and out in Paris
in a scene from Manon Lescaut. Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Anna Netrebko, currently the most marketable soprano on the planet takes on a major Puccini role in her continued bid for world supremacy. She will play the title role in the Met's new-ish production of Manon Lescaut, just five years after she played the title role in Massenet's Manon.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Concert Review: In Their Darkest Hour

Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The redoubtable Sir Simon Rattle brought the Berlin Philharmonic back to New York this week.
Photo by Thomas Rabsch © Thomas Rabsch licensed to Warner Brothers Classics.
The tenure of British conductor Sir Simon Rattle at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic is coming to an end. Starting next season, the Liverpool-born conductor prepares to mount the podium of another legendary ensemble: the London Symphony Orchestra. Before that happy event, there is the business of a North American tour with the Berliners, a tour which stopped at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night for the first of two concerts this week.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Concert Review: Building Bridges in the Sky

Anoushka Shankar with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anoushka Shankar and friend. Photo by Belinda Lawley.
The classical music of India is very different than that created in Europe and the Americas. Building a bridge between its system of ragas, alaps and talas and the Western system of keys, chords and scales sounds like an impossible task. But not for Ravi Shankar, the master of the sitar and the face of Indian music in the 20th century. Shankar did this not once but twice, writing two extensive concertos for sitar and orchestra, a bridge of sound across the gulf between cultures and proud traditions of east and west.

On Thursday evening last week, the New York Philharmonic offered the first of three performances of Mr. Shankar's Rāgā-Mālā ("Garden of Ragas") Concerto No. 2 for Sitar and Orchestra with the composer's daughter Anoushka Shankar as the soloist. This concert was originally scheduled to be led by Zubin Mehta, who commissioned this concerto in 1979 and conducted its premiere in 1981. He withdrew due to illness and Manfred Honeck stepped in as an exceptionally qualified replacement.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Concert Review: Bell, Bax and Candlepower

Joshua Bell at Alice Tully Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joshua Bell at work. Photo by Kirk Fratzke for the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

The violinist Joshua Bell holds a high profile among masters of his instrument, regularly appearing as a soloist with major orchestras or leading his own current band, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. On Thursday night, Mr. Bell gave a recital with pianist Alessio Bax at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, exploring the dichotomy between academic, formal works written for the violin and the flashy virtuoso pieces that dominated the latter half of the 19th century.

A Quick Word About the Election

And back to music soon after...promise!

It is impossible for Superconductor to exist in a bubble, or to allow the events of last night's election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America to pass without comment. This blog is not a political forum and it is not normally a place for such things, but I cannot get my regular blog writing done without getting these words out of my system.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Concert Review: The Master Builder

Steve Reich turns 80 at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Footage from Hindenburg, part of Steve Reich's Three Tales.
Image by Beryl Korot © 2002 Nonesuch Records.
Steve Reich is now 80, and remains at the forefront of the school of American minimalism. On Tuesday night, Carnegie Hall celebrated Mr. Reich's birthday with a concert featuring Sō Percussion, the International Contemporary Ensemble, members of Synergy Vocals and three of Mr. Reich's major compositions, including first Carnegie Hall presentation of his 2002 "video opera" Three Tales, a collaboration with his wife Beryl Korot.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Opera Review: Country Discomfort

The Met revives Leoš Janáček's Jenůfa. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Karita Mattila (standing) holds Oksana Dyka in a key scene from Act II of Jenůfa.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
This latest Met revival of Jenůfa, the third opera by Czech composer Leoš Janáček is one of the most important productions of the current season. It allows a new generation of opera-goers to discover one of the most powerful dramas of the 20th century, thanks to the presence of a near-ideal cast. On Monday night, soprano Oksana Dyka was incandescent in the title role, a peasant girl whose suffering makes her one of the great operatic heroines. She's pregnant by a man that does not love her. She is attacked and mutilated by his love-struck brother. And then the baby is drowned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Concert Review: Their Business is Rejoicing

The London Symphony Orchestra at NJPAC.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Miracle man: conductor Gianandrea Noseda in action.
Photo © 2016 Teatro Regio di Torino.
The London Symphony Orchestra are in transition. Valery Gergiev left for a post in Munich, and the orchestra awaits the arrival of its next chosen leader, Sir Simon Rattle, in 2017. Their current North American tour (which stopped at Prudential Hall in Newark on Saturday night) is lead by associate principal conductor Gianandrea Noseda, an Italian maestro who has worked operatic miracles in the pit at the Metropolitan Opera in recent years, and will soon be known to American audiences as the newly minted leader of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Opera Review: The Pit and the Piano

On Site Opera and the Crypt Sessions unearth The Tell-Tale Heart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hanging on a heartbeat: Elizabeth Pojanowski performs The Tell-Tale Heart 
by Gregg Kallor (center) with cellist Joshua Roman. Photo by Andrew Ousley.
There's nothing scarier than Edgar Allen Poe.

The writer and poet, who grew up in the Bronx and called New York home for much of his life is responsible for setting the template for the modern horror story, for inventing the detective tale, and for using simple words to give nightmares to millions of readers, this writer included. You can keep your tentacles, your chest-bursting aliens, your psychopaths wielding baseball bats bound with barbed wire: Poe's stories cut right to the heart of what terrifies us, our own inner demons and darkest moments laid bare for all to see.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Last Ash-in' Zero

"Opera lover" ruins two performances at the Met.
Opera spoiler: Roger Kaiser (inset) ruined Saturday's Metropolitan Opera performances
of Rossini's Guillaume Tell and L'Italiana in Algeri.
Background photo by Ken Howard.
I was on a train last night coming back from a performance at NJPAC when I checked my Twitter, and learned that Saturday's matinée performance of Rossini's opera Guillaume Tell was ruined when a man dumped a "white powder" into the orchestra pit at the Metropolitan Opera. Here's a quick recap of the story, in case you haven't heard it by now. 

Concert Review: Laughter on Tenth Avenue

Pablo Heras-Casado returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A subway musician: Pablo Heras-Casado underground.
Photo by Ari Maldonado.
The Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado has made a hell of a splash in New York, since arriving in 2011 to take over the helm of the Orchestra of St. Luke's. He has conducted at the Metropolitan Opera and at Carnegie Hall, earning enthusiastic accolades from reviewes for his fresh approach to music-making and stylish podium presence. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Heras-Casado conducted the New York Philharmonic in a traditional, conservative and satisfying program featuring the music of Béla Bartók, Max Bruch and Antonín Dvořák.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Concert Review: Leaderless, Not Rudderless

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra opens its 2016 season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Photo © 2016 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra occupies a unique place in the New York cultural landscape. This collective of musicians embraces a unique, cooperative approach to orchestral playing, rotating the roles of leadership and playing all of their concerts (whether at Carnegie Hall or on tour) without the benefit of a conductor. On Thursday night, Orpheus opened its 2016 season at Carnegie with a program featuring three trusty favorites and one new work.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Concert Review: Everyone Loves Tchaikovsky

NJSO music director Xian Zhang makes her subscription debut.

The changing of the guard at a symphony orchestra is a complicated process, often akin to the processional scenes from French and operas of the 19the century. For example, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has a new President, a new artistic administrator and most importantly, a new music director, the Chinese-born conductor Xian Zhang.

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