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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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Concert Review: From Sunup to Twilight

Valery Gergiev conducts the Vienna Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Valery Gergiev conducting.
 Photo by Alberto Venzago © 2016 Columbia Artists Management Inc.
Saturday night's Carnegie Hall appearance by the Vienna Philharmonic was the second of three concerts given by the orchestra in New York on its current American tour. It also marked the fourth of five concerts last week for Valery Gergiev, the St. Petersburg-based conductor whose presence on a bill guarantees a small but vocal group of protesters outside the venue shaming the maestro for his ties to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Pasquale

The Met brings back Donizetti's comedy of love, marriage and other disasters.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ambrogio Maestri (seated) and Levante Molnár ham it up in Don Pasquale.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's last revival of Don Pasquale burned the house down. Now, a new cast led by Eleonara Buratto makes her Met debut and tenor Javier Camarena rises from the ashes. Mega-baritone Ambrogio Maestri sings the title role.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Concert Review: To Battle the Giants

At the head of an army of performers, Kent Tritle takes on Mahler's Eighth.
Gustav Mahler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. Painting by Max Oppenheimer © 1935 Estate of the Artist.
You don't hear the Mahler Eighth much. 

Nicknamed the "Symphony of 1,000", it is the orchestral equivalent of Rabelais' medieval giant Gargantua. It requires two mixed choruses, children’s chorus, eight vocal soloists and an army of musicians with extra brass and wind, organ and a phalanx of strings. The score itself is another giant a 90-minute Pantagruel consisting of just two movements. For reasons known only to himself, Mahler paired the medieval hymn “Veni, creator spiritus” with a setting of the final scene of Part II of Goethe’s Faust, a gauzy exercise in German mysticism that depicts the long-suffering title character’s final transit into Heaven.

Concert Review: A Marathon for the Fingers

The Mariinsky Orchestra plays all five Prokofiev piano concertos.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Directing traffic: Valery Gergiev (standing, right) leads the Mariinsky Orchestra as pianist
Daniil Trifonov labors over the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto.
Photo by Robert Altman © 2015 Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Although Serge Prokofiev is a master of 20th century music, his five piano concertos suffer undue neglect. It is the current mission of the Mariinsky Orchestra and its music director Valery Gergiev, to correct that oversight. On Wednesday night, the Mariinsky players opened a three-night stand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The program: all five Prokofiev piano concertos, played in chronological order by five different soloists.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Opera Review: Those Pesky Invisible Pirates

American Classical Orchestra mounts Haydn's L'Isola disabitata.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The cast share a tender moment in a scene from L'isola disabitata.
Photo © 2015 American Classical Orchestra.
Unlike his symphonies and string quartets, the thirteen operas written by Franz Josef Haydn have gotten comparatively short shrift. On Tuesday night, the American Classical Orchestra under the leadership of Thomas Crawford made an effort to correct that oversight with a performance of  L'Isola disabitata, Haydn's tenth opera. This rarely staged work dates from 1779.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Concert Review: Village Raves and Watery Graves

Juraj Valčuha at the New York Philharmonic.
Conductor Juraj Valčuha led the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo © 2015 Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Although the New York Philharmonic has finally and decisively appointed a new music director, there is still a spirit of healthy competition on its podium between young conductors deigning to be heard before one of the most loyal audiences in New York. This week it was the turn of Juraj Valčuha, a Slovakian firebrand who offered an interesting program of works from central Europe. 

City Opera Resurrection Enters Next Stage

"Renaissance" dropped from name as company announces spring season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"It's alive!" As Baron von FRONK-en-steen, Gene Wilder exults in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.
Image from Young Frankenstein © 1975 Universal Pictures.
Today, the New York City Opera took the next steps toward regaining its place in the city's operatic community. The company, which sputtered back to life with a new production of Tosca last month, has announced a slate of a concert and two operas for the spring season, and dropped the word "Renaissance" from its name.

Concert Review: Business As Unusual

The Budapest Festival Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Man and baton: Budapest Festival Orchestra music director Iván Fischer
in a pensive moment. Photo © 2015 Budapest Festival Orchestra/Channel Classics.

Founded in 1983, the Budapest Festival Orchestra is a relatively recent addition to the ranks of central Europe's great ensembles. Under the direction of Iván Fischer, these Hungarian players always offer something fresh, from Lincoln Center stagings of the great Mozart operas to powerhouse readings of the great works of the 19th and 20th century. On Thursday night, the Hungarian band returned to Carnegie Hall for a conventional concert program (overture, concerto, symphony) that proved, in its execution to be anything but ordinary.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart's comedy of sex and class struggle returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isabel Leonard (center) stars as Cherubino in the Met's revival of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
Look, this is just a good opera. In fact it's one of the best. Mozart's Figaro is a four-act, four-hour feast of the composer's best and most memorable tunes, and a story that features one memorable day in a very peculiar household. This run offers a new cast in the Met's production by Sir Richard Eyre, which opened the 2014 season.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Concert Review: The White Tiger Returns

Dmitri Hvorostovsky in recital at Carnegie Hall. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen

He'll take Manhattan: Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
Photo by Pavel Antonov for
On Wednesday night, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Carnegie Hall for a program of Russian songs and lieder by Richard Strauss. On paper, this would seem a normal yearly recital, part of the yearly routine of an international opera star. What is unusual though is that Mr. Hvorostovsky (who last appeared at the Met in Il Trovatore last fall. is in the middle of a long battle against brain cancer. His diagnosis was announced in June of 2015. Since then, he has cancelled performances,  undergone hospitalization and suffered through prolonged, presumably painful treatment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Concert Review: Hammer of the Gods

Semyon Bychkov conducts Mahler's Sixth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Mahler Sixth meets its maker at the New York Philharmonic.
L.-R. Kyle Zerna (with gong) Daniel Druckman (with hammer), Markus Rhoten (with timpani mallets)
and Christopher Lamb with cymbals. Photo by Chris Lee © 2016 The New York Philharmonic.
When the New York Philharmonic plays the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, it is always a meaningful experience. On Tuesday night, the orchestra that that Mahler himself once led gave the fourth and final performance this season of the composer's Symphony No. 6 in A minor at Avery Fisher Hall. Lasting an hour and a half and requiring enormous orchestral forces, this symphony stands out among the composer's works for its relentless, military character and dark ending, in which the music's quest to escape its dark home key is (quite literally) stopped in its tracks.

Splitting the Apple: The Metropolitan Opera Announces its 2016-17 Season

A heap more variety for next season, and a freeze in ticket prices.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Christian van Horn as Gessler in a scene from Pierre Audi's production of Guillaume Tell.
Photo © 2013 Netherlands Opera.
Today at noon, the Metropolitan Opera announced an ambitious schedule of operas for 2016-17, with six new productions and twenty revivals, including a slew of productions that have been largely ignored in the past decade. And in a refreshing change, there's no operetta on the schedule, with the company's Jeremy Sams-ified versions of The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus given merciful (and hopefully permanent) rest. This season will mark 50 years since the Met pulled up stakes for Lincoln Center, a fact that is being celebrated with a big opera gala in the spring of 2017. There's a lot in this press release, so let's get to it, starting with the six new productions planned for next year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Madama Butterfly

A revival of Anthony Minghella's evocative staging.
by Paul J. Pelkonen.
My son, the puppet. Kristine Opolais in Act III of Madama Butterfly.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

Anthony Minghella's spare production of Madama Butterfly reduced the opera to a bright wash of colors and fabrics against a spare black acting surface. Two casts appear this season. Aña Maria Martinez has stepped in to replace Hei-Kyung Hong opposite Massimo Giordano in the first run of performances and Kristine Opolais with Roberto Alagna in the second.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Baton, Baton, Who's Got the Baton?

Exploring podium possibilities at The Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J.  Pelkonen
Call it a comeback: James Levine's return to the Met podium in 2013.
Photo by Jonathan Tichler, © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
A pair of stories published by the Arts section of the New York Times earlier this month have offered some much-needed insight into the conducting situation at the Metropolitan Opera. The articles, by Michael Cooper and Zachary Woolfe, also fueled Internet speculation as to the artistic future of that great institution, which will announce the 2016-17 season later this month.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Concert Review: When Bambi Met Godzilla

Mozart and Respighi at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing fingers of Yuja Wang.
Photo by Felix Broede © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics.
Programming a modern symphony orchestra concert requires balance, between the aesthetics of classicism and Romanticism, between modernity and the crowd-pleasing tonal music that is an ensemble's bread and butter. However, this week's New York Philharmonic program looked to be wildly out of balance, pitting a Mozart piano concerto (No. 9, the Jeunehomme) against Ottorino Respighi's giant Roman Trilogy, three sets of tone poems that, like the legions of ancient Rome, can simply bludgeon an audience into applause.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon Lescaut

Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kauffmann Roberto Alagna heat up February.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's got the ways and means to New Orleans: Kristine Opolais is a glamorous Manon Lescaut.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Jonas Kaufmann is out and Roberto Alagna will make his debut as the Chevalier des Grieux in a new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Kristine Opolais sings the title role. Director Sir Richard Eyre updates Manon Lescaut to Paris during the Nazi occupation. (Why, we're not sure.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Concert Review: The Slow Journey Into Silence

The Jerusalem String Quartet plays Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Jerusalem String Quartet: Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Kyril Zlotnitov and
Ori Kam. Photo © 2015 harmonia mundi usa.
This week, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center embarked on a six-concert survey of the complete string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven. It fell to the Jerusalem String Quartet to open the cycle with the six works of Op. 18 over two nights. Tuesday night's concert at Alice Tully Hall featured the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Quartets, key works in examining Beethoven's transition from able craftsman to an inspired, heroic figure.

Season Preview: New World, Old School

The New York Philharmonic unveils 2016-17.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On the mic: Music director Alan Gilbert (left) and Philharmonic president Matthew Van Besien
announcing the coming 2016-17 season at the Rubinstein Atrium. Photo by the author.

The coming season represents two milestones in the illustrious history of the New York Philharmonic. It is the ensemble's 175th season, and as such has a reassuring focus on traditional favorites like Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. And it's also the last season for current music director Alan Gilbert, whose tenure has been marked by an interest in programming new music and an attempt to make America's oldest orchestra reach a contemporary audience.

Season Preview: The Prodigy Returns

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center focuses 2016-17 on Mendelssohn.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Two sides of Felix Mendelssohn: as child prodigy and man.
His music is at the center of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's
programming for the 2016-17 season. 
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has announced its schedule for 2016-17, an ambitious slate focused on the life and artistry of one of the most important but under appreciated composers of the 19th century: Felix Mendelssohn. A pianist at the age of six, Mendelssohn became one of the most noted composers in Europe with his incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, published when its creator was just 19.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Concert Review: He's Bad And He Knows It

Esa-Pekka Salonen makes CONTACT! at National Sawdust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Your host: composer Esa-Pekka Salonen offered Monday night's CONTACT!
concert with the New York Philharmonic at National Sawdust.
Photo by Mat Hennek © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
The still-new Williamsburg performing arts space National Sawdust was host to members of the New York Philharmonic on Monday night, for the latest installment of CONTACT!, the new music series instituted by current music director Alan Gilbert. This performance was under the auspices of current Philharmonic composer in residence Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer and conductor who recently (and publicly) turned down the post of music director with the venerable orchestra.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Television Review: Don't Call Him "Dude"'s Mozart in the Jungle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Waltz of the flowers Gael Garcia Bernal as Rodrigo in Mozart in the Jungle.
Image © 2014
With a full concert schedule and other writing jobs, it sometimes takes time to commit to watching a new television series. And to be honest, a TV show set around a major symphony orchestra in New York City sits uncomfortably close to home. That said,'s Mozart in the Jungle is (after the first six episodes of Season One, initially aired in 2014) an absolute hoot.

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