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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, January 30, 2016

Concert Review: Crooks and Wires

Anima Eterna Brugge arrives at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Crooked: the horns of Anima Eterna Brugge.
Photo © 2015 Sydney Festival
The practice of performing classical music on instruments either built or designed in the 18th century is not a new one. It is refreshing to hear familiar music on unfamiliar instruments: wood-and-ivory flutes, cat-gut violins and natural brass horns, which require the players to manually switch between different-lengthed tubes of brass (called "crooks") in order to alter the range of available notes. On Thursday night, one such specialist orchestra made its U.S. debut: Anima Eterna Brugge.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Concert Review: Brought To You By The Letter "B"

Juanjo Mena conducts Beethoven and Bruckner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
In search of transcendence: conductor Juanjo Mena.
Photo © 2016 Columbia Artists Management Inc.
On the same day that the New York Philharmonic announced the appointment of Jaap van Zweden as its 26th music director, the orchestra was scheduled to perform two classic works from the 19th century. On the podium, Juanjo Mena, the Spanish conductor who is music director of the BBC Philharmonic. He was leading the Beethoven Violin Concerto (with soloist James Ehnes) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 6, a lesser-known example of that composer's art. Interestingly, this is the type of conservative program that might be ideally suited to Mr. van Zweden's talents.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Concert Review: He Carries a Big Shtick

The Philadelphia Orchestra plays Haydn and Bruckner.
On the podium: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Image courtesy the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The concert began with a little bit of theater. 

As music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin stepped onto the podium at Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia Orchestra principal timpanist Don Liuzzi unleashed the opening notes of Haydn’s Symphony No. 103,  Mr. Nézet-Séguin jumped back in mock shock, clutching the brass rail of the podium, before giving the strings their downbeat to launch the opening bars of this symphony, which is nicknamed the "Drum Roll."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Diamonds Are Forever

Jaap van Zweden is the Philharmonic’s next music director.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden is the 26th music director of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Hans van der Woerd for the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
At last there is white smoke coming from David Geffen Hall. In a press conference Wednesday morning, the New York Philharmonic announced that Jaap van Zweden would become the orchestra’s next music director, succeeding Alan Gilbert at the helm of America’s oldest professional symphony orchestra. He will be the 26th music director in the orchestra’s illustrious 174-year history.

Carnegie Hall 2016-17 Preview: Masks, Marathons, and Marvels

Ambitious 2016-17 season offers Mahler, Bruckner and a Venetian festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Venetian festival La Serenissima comes to Carnegie Hall in February 2017.
Original image courtesy of  and © 2016 by Carnegie Hall. Photo alteration by the author.

For the last three years, Carnegie Hall's annual press conference unveiling the slate of its forthcoming season has been held upstairs at the no-longer-new Resnick Education Wing, atop the world-famous music hall at the corner of West 57th St. and Seventh Avenue. Today's conference featured a lengthy presentation by still-reigning Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson, a conversation between Mr. Gillinson and next year's composer-in-residence Steve Reich, and the distribution of weighty vermilion folders to members of the working music press. From the looks of the schedule, next year is going to be...big.
Make that...really, really big.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

He Won't Be Sailing to America

Star tenor nixes Met Manon Lescaut.
Jonas Kaufmann  and Kristine Opolais (left) will not reunite in the Met's new Manon Lescaut.
Here they sing the roles of Manon and Des Grieux in Munich in 2014.
Photo © 2014 Wilfried Hönl.
Jonas Kaufmann, the German tenor who rose to become one of the most popular opera singers both on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and in the opera houses of the world, has cancelled his February appearances in New York City, including his commitment to sing in the Met’s new production of Manon Lescaut. The announcement came earlier today.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Opera Review: Night at the Museum

New York City Opera Renaissance presents Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Painted set design depicting the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome.
Painting by Adolfo Hohenstein, © 2016 New York City Opera Renaissance.
This week, at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater, located at the north bastion of the Time Warner Center, the New York City Opera officially came back to life. Now dubbed New York City Opera Renaissance, the company's first offering since coming out of Chapter 11 is the same opera it started with way back in 1944: Puccini's Tosca. With its painted trompe l'oeil flats and discount rococo furniture, this was a very traditional, somewhat stodgy production, using the set and costume designs by Adolfo Hohenstein that date from the opera's world premiere in 1900.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Concert Review: Taking Twin Peaks (by strategy)

Marc-André Hamelin returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marc-André Hamelin grabs a slice of the piano.
Photo © Marc-André Hamelin courtesy Hemsing Associates.
When Canadian virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin visits Carnegie Hall, he usually plays downstairs in the sleek subterranean confines of Zankel Hall. However, Wednesday night's concert was on the big stage of Stern Auditorium. He offered a carefully curated program that explored many aspects of his art, including composition. Each half started simply and increased in difficulty, climaxing in works by Ravel and Liszt. 

Obituary: Edgar Froese: 1944-2016

The Tangerine Dream founder was 70.
Plugged in: Edgar Froese at work in the studio.
Edgar Froese, the electronic music pioneer who founded the pioneering German group Tangerine Dream, died at the age of 70. The keyboardist suffered an unexpected pulmonary embolism on January 20 while in Vienna, Austria.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Maria Stuarda

Sondra Radvanovsky goes back to the chopping block.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Waiting for axeman: Sondra Radvanovsky as Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuarda.
Photo by Ken Howard  © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
All New York opera lovers hail the queen as Sondra Radvanovsky sings the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuarda, the second of Donizetti's three operas depicting the stormy history of England under Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Concert Review: Sad Tales, Best for Winter

The Cleveland Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Franz Welser-Möst led the Cleveland Orchestra on Sunday night at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Steve J. Sherman © 2015 Carnegie Hall.
The arrival of the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Sunday coincided with the first brittle snow to land on New York this winter, a glittering and skittering fall that made the air sharp and cold and footing treacherous on the sidewalks. That made getting to the Hall that Music Built for Sunday evening's concert an effort. Those who made the trek were well rewarded by one of the most ambitious concert programs of this new year: a new work paired with Shostakovich's under-performed Symphony No. 4 in C minor.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

The Met revives the bloody verismo double bill.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Trucking hostile: Marcélo Álvarez in last year's Pagiiacci.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
Although they were written by two different composers, the one-act operas Cavalleria Rusticana (by Pietro Mascagni) and Pagliacci (by Ruggerio Leoncavallo) go together like bacon and eggs. This year, Known in the trade as "Cav/Pag", these two operas are each bloody tragedies of jealousy and murder in small-town rural Sicily.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Opera Review: Poe-Faced

The American Modern Ensemble premieres a pair of chamber operas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The composer and his title character.
Original photo of Stewart Copeland © 2015 by Shayne Gray. 
The spirit of artistic invention was in full flower on Saturday night, as American Modern Ensemble premiered its production of a pair of chamber operas at Dixon Place, the engaging bar and cabaret that hides a robust subterranean performance space on Chrystie Street. The operas were The Whole Truth by AME artistic director Robert Paterson and a new orchestration of The Cask of Amontillado by rock star turned composer Stewart Copeland.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Concert Review: The Theory of Massive Attack

The New York Philharmonic goes massive and modern.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert and Frank Peter Zimmermann on tour in Europe 2012.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2012 rThe New York Philharmonic.
With the announcement of the 2016-17 season only a few weeks away, the New York Philharmonic is playing well for outgoing music director Alan Gilbert. On Friday morning at David Geffen Hall, the orchestra was joined by soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann its second performance of Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto No. 2. The Lindberg work, which premiered with the London Philharmonic late last year, was flanked by two heavy 20th century bookends: Respighi's Vetrate di chiesa ("Church Windows") and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

Concert Review: The Ringstrasse Cycle

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The maestro in flight: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo by Jan Egan © 2016 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
The city of Vienna is a hallowed place, haunted by the ghosts of the great composers, a galaxy of talent from Beethoven to Zemlinsky. oOn Thursday night, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra gave their first Carnegie Hall concert of 2016' a program that bridged together the work of four great composers, all of whom had strong connections to the city by the Danube.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Concert Review: Gowns, Gods and Generals

Lisette Oropesa opens  2016 recital series at the Armory.
Lisette Oropesa (right) and pianist John Churchwell at the Park Avenue Armory.
Photo by Da Ping Luo © 2016 Park Avenue Armory.
Lisette Oropesa is rapidly advancing to the front rank of sopranos that sing lyric repertory on the world’s operatic stages. Now 32 and a decade out of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program, the willowy Cuban-American soprano appeared this week at e Park Avenue Armory, with two concerts to open that institution’s 2016 series of recitals in the historic Board of Officers Room.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Film Review: Copying Beethoven

Ed Harris' 2006 biopic hits some of the right notes.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A bewigged Ed Harris scores in Copying Beethoven.
Photo © 2006 MGM/United Artists.
Copying Beethoven was barely noticed when it came out ten years ago. Released by MGM/UA, this 2006 film by Agnieszka Holland stars Ed Harris as the composer in his 54th year, battling deafness and inner demons as he struggles to finish the Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. The film is a fiction, pairing Beethoven with Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) a 23-year old coal miner's daughter (no I'm not making that up) copyist and aspiring composer. She meets Beethoven when she is employed to correct and edit the players' parts four days before the premiere of the Ninth. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Obituary: David Bowie 1947-2016

"Something happened on the day he died"--Blackstar
by Paul J. Pelkonen
David Bowie in the video for the title track of Blackstar.

David Bowie, whose contributions to music, art, fashion and popular culture mark him as one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, died yesterday after an 18-month battle with cancer. The artist had just celebrated his 69th birthday with the release of (Blackstar), his 25th album.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Opera Review: But You Can Never Leave

PROTOTYPE Festival presents The Last Hotel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's ready to check out: Claudia Boyle (center) flanked by Katherine Manley (left)
and Robin Adams (right) in The Last Hotel. Photo by Teddy Wolff © 2016 PROTOTYPE Festival.
The PROTOTYPE Festival, an annual celebration of the avant-garde in opera and modern music crossed the East River on Friday night, with the New York premiere of The Last Hotel. This is a new work, a collaboration between Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist/stage director Enda Walsh. Set in a grim seaside hotel on the coast of Ireland in contemporary times, it is part exploration of life, death and uncomfortable triangular relationships. The work was presented in the newly refurbished St. Ann's Warehouse, a former tobacco storage that is now gorgeous arts space under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Concert Review: From the Depths to the Heights

The Philharmonic is bringing Wagner back.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A couple of swells. Eric Owens (left) and Alan Gilbert at the Japan Society in 2008.
Photo by George Hirose for
The New York Philharmonic tested its reputation as an opera orchestra on Thursday night, with the first concert of an ambitious program featuring most of the third act of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre, the most performed and best-loved episode in his mythological magnum opus Der Ring des Nibelungen. This concert was the first new program of 2016 under the baton of Alan Gilbert and marked Eric Owens' first New York appearance singing the role of Wotan.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Obituary: Pierre Boulez (1925-2015)

The French conductor, composer, creative force was 90.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre Boulez on the podium. He never used a baton.
Photo © Universal Music Group.
Pierre Boulez died yesterday. He passed at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany, according to a report published on the  The French composer and conductor was a key figure in shaping the music and performance style of the latter half of the 20th century. He was 90 years old.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Opera Review: The Tower of Terror

Sondra Radvanovsky takes on Donizetti's Anna Bolena
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sondra Radvanovsky (center, in white) faces madness and her own fate in the last
scene of Donizetti's opera Anna Bolena.
Photo by  Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
(Note: The Met opens a short second run of Anna Bolena this week. We're re-publishing this review from October of 2015.)

The Metropolitan Opera has slated five five Donizetti operas for this season, with the featured presenation being Sondra Radvanovsky's traversal of the "three queens", operas that depict the tumultuous Tudor dynasty in British history. The first of these is Anna Bolena, with Ms. Radvanovsky as the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. The production, seen Monday night at the Met, will be followed later this year by Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux, also starring the American soprano.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Festival Preview: The Prototype Opera Festival

Four new operas and three concerts offer the best of new opera in New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Image from La Reína by Jorge Cano, © 2016 Prototype Opera Festival.
Let's face it. Things are not good for opera this year. The New York City Opera is showing signs of revival (we'll know more after the Jan. 20 premiere of NYC Opera Renaissance's Tosca) and the Gotham Chamber Opera upped and folded its movable tents last October. Into that void steps Prototype, the downtown opera festival that has inspired  attendees for three straight years. Its fourth season, opening Jan. 6, boasts seven shows that aim to push the envelope of contemporary opera for listeners. Perhaps there are more interesting things going on than endless revivals of Puccini?

The Year in Reviews: The Concerts of 2015

The best concerts and recitals of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Mysingsö Beach Chair (pictured above) was a key component of
Goldberg, the experimental presentation of Bach at the Park Avenue Armory.
Photo from © IKEA.
2015 was a year of farewells. Pierre Boulez, having turned 90 quietly stepped off the podium. Kurt Masur passed away. Valery Gergiev ended his term with the London Symphony Orchestra and Alan Gilbert announced that he would be moving on from the New York Philharmonic. However it was also a very good year for concert music.

This year's concerts were in a variety of settings: Lincoln Center, NJPAC and even a beach chair in the middle of the darkness of the Park Avenue Armory. All that and more is in the list of the ten best concert experiences I had in 2015. All links lead to full reviews and all quotes below are taken from Superconductor articles.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Year In Reviews: New Music in 2015

The music of the future--today on Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing instruments of Harry Partch (seated.)
Photo from

From the appointment of Esa-Pekka Salonen as Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic to the astonishing return of Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach (with a new Schickele work on the horizon, more on that later) this was an interesting year for new music. Pierre Boulez celebrated an important birthday and quietly retired from conducting.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Year in Reviews: The Operas of 2015

The ten best opera performances of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dangerous curves: Marliss Peterson's performance in Lulu was a highlight of 2015.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Despite the untimely death of Gotham Chamber Opera, 2015 was largely a successful year for the art form in the New York area and elsewhere. Here's the ten best opera performances that this reviewer saw this calendar year. All titles link to full Superconductor reviews. Chronological order with the oldest first.

The Worst (Wurst?) of 2015

Bad things that happened in the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We've done this as throwing of the eggs. Here it's sausage. Part of a complete breakfast.
This is the time between concert reviews where we wrap up the very strange year that was 2015. Let's open with the lowlights of the year and then we'll get on to the best-of's. So without further ado here are the worst things that happened in the classical music and opera sphere in 2015. No particular order.

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