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About Superconductor

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 30, 2017

The Year in Reviews 2017: The Best Operas

Superconductor picks the ten best opera performances of 2017. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We end the Year of the Rooster with ten clucky I mean lucky operas.
(For Part One of The Year in Reviews 2017 click here.)
It wasn't easy.

From the opening salvo of the Prototype Festival to the year-ending scandals that engulfed the careers and sullied the reputations of two internationally famous conductors, 2017 was a turbulent year in the opera world. A lot of performances had to be picked through for the following list of ten, and we're sure that we missed a couple of worthy honorable mentions.

Chronological order, and all links go to full reviews on Superconductor.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Concert Review: Music That Goes Over Easy

The New York Philharmonic offers a three course holiday meal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Chick Bal-Á: Detail from Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks by Natasha Turovsky,
inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. Image © 2005 Natasha Turovsky

This week, the New York Philharmonic offered two decidedly (and welcomely) secular concerts to warm a very frigid holiday week in New York City. Since the orchestra is at present without a music director, this program was entrusted to Bramwell Tovey, a conductor usually engaged for lighter fare.

The Year in Reviews: the Best Concerts of 2017

Superconductor takes aim at The Year of the Rooster.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Well, that was a year. 2017 saw Superconductor stick pretty close to home with the exception of one memorable visit to...Japan(!) and the odd trip to Philadelphia and Boston. However, the homefront yielded a great slate of news stories, scandals, protests and even the odd classical music performance. The best are listed below. All concert titles link to reviews except for the Barenboim Bruckner which links to all nine concert reviews from that memorable marathon at Carnegie Hall. Yes, I cheat sometimes. Doesn't everyone?

Here are the most memorable concert experiences of 2017 in chronological order.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Superconductor Presents: The Sausage Awards

The Very Wurst of 2017
by Paul J. Pelkonen
How sausage is made: it isn't pretty. Animated still by Gerald Scarfe
from the film Pink Floyd: The Wall © 1982 MGM/UA.

Hi everybody, it's time for the first of a series of year-end wrap-up posts as we close the books on 2017. This will forever be remembered as the year that the government of the United States decided to start undoing the hard work and social programs of the 20th century, and as the year when long-buried sex scandals in the entertainment industry finally began to come out in the light.

Here are five things that Superconductor (that is I,) did not like about 2017.

Opera Review: Fairy Tale Justice

The Met bounces back with Hansel and Gretel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Spoon man: Kitchen witch Gerhard Siegel (center) makes magic while
Hansel (Tara Erraught, prone) and Gretel (Lisette Oropesa)  try to escape. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera plans its seasons five years in advance. So when general manager Peter Gelb chose Hansel and Gretel as one of this year's two holiday presentations, there was no way that he could have predicted that this fairy tale opera, sung in English, would be just the thing that this opera company, rocked by a month of sex scandals and rumors, needed.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The St. Roger's Passion: A Pink Floyd Oratorio

An oratorio scenario inspired by Pink Floyd.
by Paul J. Pelkonen 
(with apologies to Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason)
Lo there is no dark side of the moon. Art by Paul Klee, Hipgnosis and Gerald Scarfe.
Dark Side of the Moon symbol © 1973 EMI Records
So today I was talking to a friend who is singing at the Kennedy Center tonight. She referred to it as singing "at the KC". I said, "Oh, you're singing King Crimson?" because I'm a smartass.

She said, "no the Kennedy Center. I'm singing about sheep."

It is to her I'd like to dedicate this little holiday offering, a completely made up outline for

Friday, December 22, 2017

Editorial: Falling Off Their Podiums

The changing role of the conductor in the 21st century.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photoshop by the author.
 When you think about it conductors are held in a ridiculously high esteem. Now granted it is important for orchestras to cue in together and stay in time, and know when to start and when to stop playing. However, the idea of the conductor as celebrity, as some sort of mystic grand master of musical performance is one that is endemic to the classical music and opera business.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Broken Baton

Charles Dutoit accused of sexual misconduct, loses major conducting jobs.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit stands accused of four separate incidents of sexual misconduct.

In a detailed and harrowing story in the Associated Press, three opera singers and an orchestra musician recalled sexual advances and assaults by Mr. Dutoit. The story, by Jocelyn Gecker, shines light on four unrelated incidents. All involved the Swiss maestro. In response to the story, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic cut their ties with the 81-year-old Swiss maestro.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Concert Review: In Search of Space, Still Orbiting

The Orchestra Now plays Adams, Penderecki and Holst.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor JoAnn Falletta led The Orchestra Now on Saturday night at Alice Tully Hall.
Photo by Cheryl Gorsky © 2017 The Buffalo Philharmonic.
The Orchestra Now is still a new presence on the classical music scene in New York but it is, on the surface, a pretty good idea. Conceived by Bard College president Leon Botstein, TŌN (as they style themselves) is the renamed, re-packaged, re-marketed top-level student orchestra of that august educational institution. On Thursday night, the Bard students visited Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall to play an ambitious program under the baton of JoAnn Falletta. Ms. Falletta is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, one of this great state's more underrated ensembles. On the program, three ambitious 20th century works that would have been a tall order even for a professional orchestra.

The Chords That Bind

Superconductor explores a connection between Tristan und Isolde and Siegfried. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left: Ludwig and Maria Schnorr von Carolsfeld as Tristan and Isolde.
Interrupting them: Jean de Rezke as Siegfried. Most rude of him. Equally rude photoshop by the author.
In the operas of Richard Wagner, there is a sort of musical interconnectivity that exists: not just between the leitmotifs of the four operas of Der Ring des Nibelungen but between the other operas too. Certain themes recur in operas with similar ideas. (A famous example is the "Dresden Amen") which appears in both Tannhäuser and Parsifal.) This morning, while having a listen to the 2012 Decca remaster of the Georg Solti/Vienna recording of the Ring, I discovered another such musical connection. In the first act of Siegfried I found the Tristan chord.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Opera Review: The Help Strikes Back

The Metropolitan Opera revives Mozart’s Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The crowded house: Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Christiane Karg, Adam Plachetka and Luca Pisaroni
in Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
As Mozart's most popular romantic comedy, Le Nozze di Figaro is more than just the story of a crazy household in Spain getting ready for two of its servants to get hitched. Based on what was (at the time) a controversial play by Pierre de Beaumarchais, Figaro is an opera that makes the listener confront ideas of social justice and shouts of the need for equality between different classes within the microcosm of Aguas Frescas, the Almaviva estate. Looking at the opera in this way, the Met's current revival of the company's 2014 production could not be better timed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Opera Review: When the Shoe Finally Fits

MSM Opera unearths Nicolo Isouard's Cendrillon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What Cendrillon is all about: the shoes. 
In recent years, the Manhattan School of Music's opera program has become a cabinet of curiosities: a clearing-house for little-heard versions of familiar operatic stories by unfamiliar composers. The latest of these, seen Saturday at the school's temporary performance space, the Florence Gould Auditorium at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise is Cendrillon, in a 1810 opera-comique by the Maltese composer Nicolo Isouard.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No Roads Lead to Rome

Sir Bryn Terfel pulls out of the new Met Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Bryn Terfel (center) has exited the Met's troubled new Tosca, opening Dec. 31.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
First they lost their leading lady. Then the conductor. The Cavaradossi quit. And then the second conductor. Now, Sir Bryn Terfel has become the latest artist to pull out of the Metropolitan Opera's increasingly troubled new production of Puccini's Tosca.

Concert Review: The Hetaera and the Philosophers

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo © 2017 The Berlin Philharmonic.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has always occupied an important place among orchestras that visit New York. They are near neighbors, and their regular appearances at Carnegie Hall are a linchpin of that august venue's concert programming. In recent years, the announcement that Philadelphia's music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin would be assuming that same post at the Metropolitan Opera has only served to raise the profile of these concerts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Hansel and Gretel

Cannibalism repurposed as holiday entertainment.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Delicious thoughts: A moment from Act II of Hansel and Gretel. 
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Met revives Humperdinck's fairy tale (in English) in this fractured production by director Richard Jones. More cake?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Concert Review: Conducting Well is the Best Revenge

Alan Gilbert returns the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's back: Alan Gilbert returned to the New York Philharmonic last week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic celebrated the 175th year of its existence this week with a traditional, decidedly 19th century program of Weber, Mozart and Beethoven. The choices on the program were clearly meant to echo those early Philharmonic days, when Uri Corelli Hill led the ensemble in concerts at the Apollo Rooms down on Broadway. Leading this pleasant but most conservative concert: former favorite son and former music director Alan Gilbert, who ended his tenure at the helm of America's oldest orchestra earlier this year.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Concert Review: The Undiscovered Countries

Leon Botstein and the ASO explore music of the Eastern bloc.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The violinist Alena Baeva played the Concerto No. 7 by Grazyna Bacewicz at Alice Tully Hall
with the American Symphony Orchestra. Photo by International Classical Artists. 
One of the biggest problems facing the classical music world in the 21st century is repetition. There are only so many times you can hear the Fifth Symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler before interest dries up and ticket sales dwindle. Luckily for New Yorkers, the compulsively curious academic Dr. Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra have forged an artistic legacy exploring music that is off the beaten path. Their efforts often lead to neglected works being heard, and sometimes even programmed elsewhere.

Concert Review: The Boys' Club

The St. Thomas Choir celebrates Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Enraged Musician. Engraving by William Hogarth from 1741,
the year of the premiere of Handel's Messiah.
Handel's Messiah is a ubiquitous event for New York music lovers, with as many as thirty different choruses and ensembles offering performances of this oratorio. On Tuesday night, New York Baroque Incorporated and the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys kicked off the Advent season  with the first of two performance this week at St. Thomas Church. Using period instruments, four soloists and an all-male chorus, this modest Messiah was as Handel himself might have heard it.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Merry Widow

Susan Graham makes a welcome and timely return to the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susan Graham as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera invites its attendees to have themselves a very merry...widow. The generally ebullient Susan Graham makes her one return to the Met this season in the role of Hanna Glawari, the title character of Lehar's The Merry Widow.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Concert Review: The Kids Are Alright (though one is a brat)

The Juilliard Orchestra plays Debusssy and Ravel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume led the Juilliard Orchestra on Monday night.
Photo by Paul Leclaire.
The combined forces of Juilliard Orchestra and Juilliard Opera students came together on Monday night to give an evening of Debussy and Ravel, a set of performances that offered a much needed beacon of musical hope in what is a particularly dark and troubled time for the arts community around Lincoln Center. The program, under the direction of French conductor Emmanuel Villaume offered a major work by each composer and a Ravel rarity to boot.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And save thy captive...Tosca?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rome if you want to: Emmanuel Villaume not standing atop the Castle Sant'Angelo.
The conductor will step in for the suspended James Levine in the Met's new Tosca.
Photo of Mr. Villaume by TheaterJones. Photo alteration by the author.
Tosca is an opera of violence and derring-do, of an artist and an opera singer confronted by evil and corruption and trying to save themselves from the clutches of Rome's police chief, Baron Scarpia. In a case of life imitating art, the Metropolitan Opera's troubled production of Tosca has found its savior: French conductor Emmanuel Villaume.

Concert Review: A Substitute of Substance

Edo de Waart leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Edo de Waart.
Photo from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra © 2017 by Jesse Willems.
A cancellation by a major international conductor is never an occasion for happiness. However, attendees at Thursday nights concert by the New York Philharmonic may have felt fortunate in that that august orchestra's choice of substitute. Stepping in for the indisposed Christopher von Dohnányi, Dutch conductor Edo de Waart proved to be an able and welcome substitute. To be fair, this change was announced several months ago.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Editorial: In Times Like These

Some thoughts on the James Levine scandal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine (center right) at his return to the Met pit conducting Cosí fan tutte.
Photo by Naomi Vaughan © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
There are times when this profession, that of a full-time commentator on classical music and opera, can be the greatest in the world. I go to a lot of concerts. Occasionally I get to fly around the world. I bathe (daily in pools of aestheticism, picking over the work of great artists in an attempt to keep the fires of inspiration burning and feed the cycle of the news.

And then there are times when those fires goes out, doused by the cold waters of harsh reality.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Conductor Suspended

James Levine is under investigation for statutory rape.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Screen grab from the New York Post today, taken by the author.
The Post article ran Saturday December 2. Content of this image © The New York Post.

According to a story in The New York Times, three accusers have now come forward, accusing Metropolitan Opera music director emeritus James Levine of inappropriate sexual contact. Mr. Levine was suspended by the Met pending further investigation and his conducting schedule has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

The story first appeared in an article in the Saturday New York Post, written by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, details a 2016 police report filed in Lake Forest, Illinois. In it, an unnamed Illinois victim accused the conductor of multiple sexual assaults dating from a time when Mr. Levine was 41 and his accuser was just 15.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart's comedy of masters, servants and class warfare returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ildar Abdrazakov and Isabel Leonard in a moment from Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
An opera of revolution and class warfare disguised as a comedy. Mozart's masterful Le nozze di Figaro returns to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. See it with someone you love.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Norma

The Bellini bel canto classic returns with a new cast.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Angela Meade (top) and Jamie Barton in the 2013 production of Norma at the Met.
Photo © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Norma is one of those operas that is all about the soprano singing the title role. In this case, the Metropolitan Opera opened ts 2017-18 season with a new production by Sir David McVicar, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as the knife-wielding pagan priestess who reacts badly when she learns her boyfriend (the leader of the opposing Roman forces) is cheating on her....with her handmaiden. Now in the first revival of the show Angela Meade takes over the title role.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Concert Review: Solemnity Now

The Metropolitan Opera mounts an old-fashioned Verdi Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine in his element.
Photo © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera Press Department.
The fifty-one year-old auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera has certain drawbacks. Those became visible on Monday night as the venerable opera company presented the second performance this season of the Messa di Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi. This is a colossal setting of the Latin Mass for the Dead, the standard service for funerals in the Roman Catholic Church until 1970. (Like all the performances this week, this one was dedicated to the memory of the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Recordings Review: The Last Laugh

Dmitri Hvorostovsky takes his final curtain in Rigoletto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto, a role he sang at the Met and Covent Garden.
Photo by Johan Persson, © Royal Opera of Covent Garden
The death of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (from brain cancer, last week) sent an earthquake through the opera world. "Dima", as he was known was a beloved figure, for his velvety instrument and leonine stage appearance. Those qualities made him a star: an ideal leading man (in a few operas) or a bad guy you loved to root for in many others. His final recorded achievement, made earlier this year in Lithuania, is the title role in Verdi's Rigoletto
. He was well suited to play such a complex character, one who is both leading man and villain at once.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Concert Review: A Full Feast of Rare Birds

Gianandrea Noseda leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Because photos of conductors get boring, here's a set design for The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh from 1929.
The New York Philharmonic has returned from their mid-November residency at the University of Michigan, just in time to offer their listeners a slate of concerts as the city races toward the holiday season. The first of these programs opened Wednesday night as Gianandrea Noseda led a program of infrequently performed works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saëns and Rachmmaninoff, making a good argument for more programs like this in the future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Concert Review: Songs from a Hockey Arena

Billy Joel rocks Madison Square Garden...again.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Big Shot: Billy Joel at the piano for your dining and dancing pleasure.
Photo © 2017 LiveNation.
OK. Maybe you're waking up, opening my blog page or getting your daily e-mail and going...."Alright. That Pelkonen kid has lost it again. First that Dream Theater review. Then those guys with the three drummers...and now...Billy Joel? The piano man?" Well yes. I saw Mr. Joel's show last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and enjoyed it thoroughly, and decided to write about it. So settle down, Beavis, pour yourself a glass from a bottle of red or a bottle of white, and let me do my thing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Obituary: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017)

The great baritone succumbs to cancer.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
His last bow: Dmitri Hvorostovsky on the Met stage in the 2017 50th Anniversary Gala.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There is heartbreaking news in the opera world this morning. It has been announced that Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the leonine baritone whose smooth voice and good looks made him an international superstar has died at the age of 55. An announcement appeared on his Facebook page this morning. It is reproduced here:

“On behalf of the Hvorostovsky family, it is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Dmitri Hvorostovsky – beloved operatic baritone, husband, father, son, and friend – at age 55. After a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, he died peacefully this morning, November 22, surrounded by family near his home in London, UK. May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Concert Review: The Return of the Smooth Kriminals

King Crimson strip the paint off the Beacon Theater.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Starless and Bible Black and white: The men of King Crimson prepare to take the stage at the Beacon Theater
Photo by Dave Salt from 
[Ed. Note: Those of you who read Superconductor regularly know that three weeks ago, we dedicated a column  to King Crimson, the seminal and long-running progressive rock band, currently on tour in support of its Radical Action live boxed set. Well, the tour came to New York's Beacon Theater and we are happy to report that we snagged tickets. So here's another review, hopefully for your enjoyment.]

King Crimson stand alone among the long-lived, still-active rock bands that rose up in the first wave of what is referred today as so-called "progressive" or "prog" rock. The band is not so much a steady working unit as a collection of committed musicians, who form themselves around the guitar wizardry of 71-year old Robert Fripp. Mr. Fripp remains a pioneer of both his chosen instrument and electronic effects. He still plays seated, and still makes more noise than a New York City garbage truck at 6 a.m.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Concert Review: You Can Go Home (But You Can't Go Back)

Dream Theater bring Images and Words to the Beacon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater: (l.-r. John Myung, Jordan Rudels, James LaBrie, Mike Mangini, John Petrucci)
in concert Friday night at the Beacon Theater. Photo by the author.
Progressive metal mavens Dream Theater are on tour again, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of their 1992 album Images and Words. On Thursday night, the Long Island quintet brought their Images and Words and Beyond Tour to their old turf: the hallowed stage of the Beacon Theater. This was the first DT show at that venue since 2011. However, this is not the same band that staked its claim with that record so many years ago.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Concert Review: The Fires of Inspiration

Daniil Trifonov unleashes his Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Valery Gergiev (left) and pianist/composer Daniil Trifonov in Rotterdam, 2016
Photo © Gergiev Festival 2016 Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
One of the questions I get as a music critic (aside from "Do you play an instrument?" and "How do you make money?") goes something like this:

"Is there any new music that you write about?"

Yes. Yes there is.

At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, the Mariinsky Orchestra and pianist Daniil Trifonov offered the New York premiere of the artist's first Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Now 26, Mr. Trifonov has made a name for himself as a young and respected virtuoso, the leading example of a new generation of piano-slingers thrilling listeners around the world. This concerto, which received its New York premiere at this concert, is his shot at a whole new kind of legitimacy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Images, Words, and Really Complicated Drum Parts

My 5ive favorite Dream Theater shows.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater celebrated twenty years at Radio City Music Hall.
Photo from the live DVD  Score copyright 2007 Atco Records. 

I've been a fan of the progressive metal band Dream Theater since 1992, when I read a Guitar World review of their second album Images and Words. I remember heading out into Manhattan on a cold wet day In December, wanting to give myself the “gift of a new band to listen to” before Christmas. I came back with the album on cassette. I loved it, playing the first side to exhaustion. One morning I put the cassette in on side 2 and heard "Metropolis Part 1: the Miracle and the Sleeper" (hey I didn't title it) for the first time. I was stunned, puzzled, impressed and utterly hooked.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Verdi Requiem

In place of the cancelled Forza, four concert performances of Verdi's thunderous Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Met Chorus and soloists in the Verdi Requiem.
Photo © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera courtesy the press department, 
Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Messa da Requiem has been called his best opera that doesn't have a staging. Here, the Met offers this massive work as a substitute for its cancelled production of La Forza del Destino. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Concert Review: Swimming Against the Tide of Protest

The Mariinsky Orchestra (with protestors) returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen 
A sea of notes: Valery Gergiev (left) and Denis Matsuev at play.
Photo by Denis Matsuev © 2016 personal collection of the artist. 
A visit from Valery Gergiev is always an occasion for celebration...and for protest. The conductor and his Mariinsky Orchestra were met at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday by applause inside the historic venue, while the sidewalk outside the lobby filled with placard-carrying citizens, objecting the close ties between Mr. Gergiev and Vladimir Putin, the current president of the Russian Federation. However, there were no politics inside the great hall this night, only a program of 20th century Russian music.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Concert Review: Our Dancing Hath Turned to Mourning

Leonard Slatkin pays homage to Leonard Bernstein at the Philharmonic.
Leonard Slatkin. Photo by Donald Dietz.
In the history of the New York Philharmonic, no music director casts a longer shadow than Leonard Bernstein. The Lenny legend started with a breakthrough performance at Carnegie Hall when the 25-year-old assistant subbed in for an ailing Bruno Walter in a concert that was nationally broadcast. This week, the New York Philharmonic ended Bernstein's Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival on a high note indeed. This  three-week salute to its former boss (who turns 100 this year) culminated in a program conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The concert (heard Saturday night) featured Richard Strauss' Don Quixote (featured on that afternoon in 1943) paired with Bernstein's third and final symphony, Kaddish.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Opera Review: Lust in the Dust

The Met spends its money on Thaïs.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Unholy: mad monk Athanaël (Gerald Finley, right) obsesses over the tide character (Aileen Pérez) in Thaïs. 
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
Jules Massenet's Thaïs is the operatic equivalent of a rare orchid, an exotically colored, carefully cultivated hothouse plant that is brought out only when an opera company believes it has the right soprano for the difficult title part. On Saturday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera gave the first performance of this season's revival. Here, the stars were soprano Ailyn Pérez stepping into the leading lady's gilded sandals, and baritone of the moment Gerald Finley singing Athanaël, the troubled monk whose cilice may be on a little too tight.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Concert Review: A King of Infinite Space

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Bach and Bruckner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the fabulous Philadelphians.
Photo © 2017 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Philadelphia Orchestra's relationship with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a model of modern artistic collaboration. The Quebecois conductor has brought a much-needed dose of enthusiasm and artistic integrity to the band on Broad Street, and the orchestra has responded according to its gifts with full, rich performances that remain deeply satisfying. One of those took place on Friday afternoon, in a concert at Verizon Hall that featured a true symphonic heavyweight: Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Concert Review: Who You Gonna Call? Dust-Busters!

The Israel Philharmonic ends its Carnegie Hall run.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic in flight. Photo © 2014 Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
There is a long history between conductor Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Mr. Mehta has enjoyed thirty years at the helm of this Tel Aviv-based ensemble, which continues to serve as a much-loved international musical ambassador for their home country. On Thursday night, Mr. Mehta and his players offered their third and final program at Carnegie Hall this week: an evening of overture, concerto and symphony played in the traditional order. It was not exactly a thrilling experience.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Concert Review: Taking on the World

Zubin Mehta conducts the sprawling Mahler Third.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor for life Zubin Mehta.
Photo © 2017 Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
The universe is a big place. Really big. And it is the subject matter of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3. On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (where he holds the post of Conductor for Life) took on this enormous, world-embracing work, which at 100 minutes (and six movements) is still the longest symphony to hold a place in the standard orchestral repertory. Performances require two choirs and a contralto soloist, making it a rarity on the concert stage.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Singing Into a Can

Some presumptive thoughts on the nature of classical recordings.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Georg Solti and producer John Culshaw at work in the Sofiensaal, Vienna.
Photo © Decca Classics/UMG.
2017 is winding down and the holiday shopping season is around the corner. That means it's time to start looking at the newest crop of recordings arriving at Superconductor Central (my Brooklyn apartment.) Before delving into these releases I wanted to hold forth (cos it's my dime) about the nature of the classical recording industry, with some,thoughts on its history, its evolution and its way forward in the 21st century.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Concert Review: A Calmer, Simpler, More Nervous Time

Alan Gilbert revisits The Age of Anxiety.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Very, very nervous: Makoto Ozone (at piano) and conductor Alan Gilbert bring The Age of Anxiety
to the New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 New York Philharmonic.
Americans who do not live in the bubbling cauldron of New York City, claim to long for a simpler, easier time. When picket fences were white, the mail was delivered regularly, and people's lives echoed the covers of trite magazines sold in supermarket checkout lines. However, New Yorkers know different. That difference was on proud display Saturday night as Alan Gilbert led the second of three programs at the New York Philharmonic dedicated to the music of Leonard Bernstein.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Your Mind is Blank and Empty"

Or: how to review a performance of a piece you've heard too many times.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
No that is not my head. I have hair.
When you leave off the inherent challenges in being  compensated for one's creative work, the lot of the professional classical music and/or opera critic is a pretty good one. We get to hear a lot of performances, of operatic and orchestral masterpieces that have survived into the fairly small club that is known as "the repertory." Occasionally we experience delicious rarities, epicure works by composers that we've heard of but have never seen played live. And finally, we occasionally get to hear and write about something new and genuinely innovative.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Opera Review: Angels and Insects

The Met attempts to pin down Madama Butterfly.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The bad lieutenant: Pinkerton (Roberto Aronica) peeps on Butterfly (Hui He) on their wedding night.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There is no argument with the artistic or aesthetic success of the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Madama Butterfly. It was the first production launched under the aegis of current general manager Peter Gelb and remains the greatest success of his administration. As envisioned by the late director Anthony Minghella, it was a revaluation and revolution for the venerable opera house. The show returned Thursday night, to find a very different state of affairs in the little house in Nagasaki.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Concert Review: An Orchestra of Ten

Marc-André Hamelin returns to Carnegie Hall. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marc-André Hamelin and his orchestra.
Photo by Canetty Clarke © 2017 Hyperion Records.
The Canadian-born Boston-based pianist Marc-André Hamelin is not the biggest star to play his instrument. He doesn’t gyrate on his bench, flail his arms or wear short skirts that scandalize traditionalists. No. On Wednesday night, he came to Carnegie Hall, programmed unbelievably difficult stuff, and then blew the audience through the back wall of Stern Auditorium.

The sad part is, this hallowed venue was only half full to hear a musician of this caliber.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Thaïs

The most famous French opera with an umlaut in the title.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You're nobody in Alexandria unless you live in a house with a really big door.
Photo from the Met's last production of Thats by Ken Howard, courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Massenet's most sensuous opera as a vehicle for soprano Ailyn Pérez and stud baritone Gerald Finley. Thaïs is a lush example of Massenet using an exotic setting to tell a fairly prosaic story of love and obsession. The twist is that the "bad girl" courtesan finds true redemption while the religious, sex-obsessed monk goes down in flames.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Concert Review: An Apocalyptic Kind of Party

The mighty King Crimson thraks NJPAC.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A slightly different version of King Crimson takes Radical Action.
 Photo by Sid Smith © 2017 DGM.
From their foundation in 1968, King Crimson  have never been a typical rock band. They have eschewed a linear existence for formation and reformation over the course of half a century, with the sole constant being guitarist, electronic music warrior and philosopher Robert Fripp. On Halloween night, Mr. Fripp brought the eighth and latest edition of Crimson to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, unleashing the band's peculiar brand of cheerful insanity upon an adoring, middle-aged crowd in Prudential Hall.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Opera Review: No Exit, Pursued by a Bear

The Met brings The Exterminating Angel to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ursa Major: the cast of The Exterminating Angel (and two sheep) confront the unthinkable in Thomas Adés' opera.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
That which is new and innovative in the world of opera is often distinctly unwelcome. Harried critics usually get one hearing before having to hold forth as to the quality of a new piece. Subscribers from suburbia, eager to experience culture, often trade in their tickets to avoid anything written in the past hundred years that isn't Turandot. However, the creation of new works remains how the art of opera continues, against steep odds and media indifference, to grow and survive. This week, the Metropolitan Opera did their bit by opening Thomas Adès' latest opus: The Exterminating Angel.

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