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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, January 30, 2017

Concert Review: The Last Steps to Infinity

Daniel Barenboim ends his Bruckner cycle with the Ninth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniel Barenboim in action at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Steve J. Sherman.
The first complete cycle of all nine numbered symphonies by Anton Bruckner came to its end on Sunday with a matinée concert featuring the composer's last work: the Symphony No. 9 in D minor. The project was the vision of conductor Daniel Barenboim, who led the Staatskapelle Berlin (as he has for the last 25 years) in all nine concerts at Carnegie Hall over eleven days.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Concert Review: Climbing Twin Peaks

The Carnegie Hall Bruckner cycle reaches its climax.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Your guide to Bruckner: Daniel Barenboim.
Photo by Paul Schimhofer © 2017 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
This week, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin are wrapping up their epic cycle of nine Bruckner symphonies at Carnegie Hall. Friday's concert featured the Symphony No. 7 paired with Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat Major. Saturday featured No. 8 all by itself: the longest work in the Bruckner catalogue and the most demanding of the listener's sense of faith: in both Bruckner himself and the ability to build enormous bridges of sound bulwarked by harmony and counterpoint.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Concert Review: Some Sentimental Hygiene

Semyon Bychkov opens the New York Philharmonic's Tchaikovsky Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pianist Yefim Bronfman, concertmaster Frank Huang (with violin) conductor Semyon Bychkov (standing) and cellist Carter Brey work through Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is arguably the most popular composer to come out of Russia in the 19th century. His blend of traditional folk-like themes with Western classical structures remains appealing to the ear, and the unfettered Romantic sensitivity of his music makes him a box office draw. The New York Philharmonic chose him for the focus of this year's series of festival concerts, but in doing so may not have gotten what New Yorkers expect.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rusalka

It's like The Little Mermaid but with more death.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The sleeper must awaken: Kristin Opolais (rear) and Brandon Jovanovich (foreground) in Rusalka.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met plunges into a new production of Dvořák's Rusalka, a Czech fairy tale with gorgeous music and a dark but oh-so-Romantic ending. Kristine Opolais sings the title role, which has become one of her signature parts in recent years.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Concert Review: The Philosopher's Stone

Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bruckner (left) and his critics, Eduard Hanslick, Max Kalbeck and Richard Heuberge.
At the end of its first week, the ongoing Carnegie Hall Bruckner marathon has moved into familiar territory this week, leaving behind the obscure early symphonies for works which, while not programmed with great frequency nonetheless show up regularly in the repertory of large symphony orchestras. Here it was the turn of the Symphony No. 6 (nicknamed "The Philosopher"), paired with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Concert Review: Controversy and Counterpoint

The Bruckner odyssey continues with Symphony No. 5
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Bruckner-Orgel in St. Florian, Linz, Austria, where composer Anton Bruckner was chief organist.
It is also his final resting place. Photo by Greg Kraftschik for Wikipedia.
What's going at Carnegie Hall this week is historic. Not only is this nine concert marathon of Bruckner's published symphonies (in order) the first of its kind at that historic institution, but this is the first so-called Bruckner cycle in the history of the United States. On Tuesday night. Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin reached the midway point of their odyssey with the Symphony No. 5.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Concert Review: Silenced No More

The Carnegie Hall Brucknerthon continues with the Fourth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Quiet please: Daniel Barenboim leads the unquiet symphonies of Anton Bruckner at Carnegie Hall.
Photo © 2012 The BBC Proms courtesy Warner Brothers Classics.
Some composers take longer to find success than others. Consider if you will the case of one Joseph Anton Bruckner, whose remarkable odyssey from humble monastery organist to world-beating symphonist remains one of the most endearing and bizarre music stories from 19th century Austria. On Monday night, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin played the fourth concert in their nine-part voyage through Bruckner's symphonic output at Carnegie Hall, with a roof-raising performance of the Symphony No. 4.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Festival Preview: Beloved Friend: Tchaikovsky and his World

The New York Philharmonic goes all-in on the Russian romantic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Semyon Bychkov and friend. Original promotional photograph © 2016 Decca Classics. 
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in 1893, but earned immortality, remaining far and away the most popular Russian composer of the 19th century. Starting this Thursday, his life and legacy are the subject of a new festival at the New York Philharmonic, Beloved Friend: Tchaikovsky and his World. The festival continues for three weeks, bringing the warmth and passion of his music to the stage of David Geffen Hall and other venues. Tickets and information are available here.

Concert Review: The Master's Singer

Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin play Mozart and Bruckner.
Richard Wagner (left) greets Anton Bruckner in Bayreuth in 1873.
Silhouette by Dr. Otto Böhler from Wikipedia Commons.
The nine-concert Carnegie Hall marathon featuring conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin reached its first milestone on Saturday night. This concert, the third in the series and the last of the opening triptych featured Mr. Barenboim leading his forces in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24, paired with the Symphony No. 3 of Anton Bruckner. This symphony bears the nickname "Wagner." It was one of two works that Bruckner brought to Bayreuth on an 1873 visit, where he and Richard Wagner discussed music over many a pint of beer.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Concert Review: Voices in the Wilderness

The Staatskapelle Berlin takes on the Bruckner Second. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Leading from the piano: Daniel Barenboim. Photo © 2017 Staatskapelle Berlin.

When he was 14 years old, the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim made his Carnegie Hall debut on January 20, 1957,  playing the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Symphony of the Air under the baton of the legendary Leopold Stokowski. Last night, Mr. Barenboim, now 74, celebrated the 60th anniversary of that occasion with the Staatskapelle Berlin, bringing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 to that hallowed stage.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Concert Review: The End is the Beginning

The Bruckner marathon begins at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle.
Photo © 2016 by Chris Christodolou.

One might argue that it is difficult to break new ground in classical music, but inventive conductors somehow find a way. On Thursday night, conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim opened the first complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies in the history of Carnegie Hall, with that composer's Symphony No. 1 paired with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Opera Review: One Last Chance at Rosina

Javier Camarena closes the book on Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The cast of Il barbiere di Siviglia clown it up in Act II of Rossini's masterpiece.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There's a reason some operas never go away. Take Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which   is on the verge of celebrating 201 in the standard repertory this year. This month, the Metropolitan Opera's revival boasts an extraordinary cast, with Peter Maffei in the title role, soprano Pretty Yende as Rosina and tenor Javier Camarena, singing his final run as Count Almaviva before moving on to other repertory. All three stars shone at Wednesday night's performance, occupying their roles seamlessly in the company's flimsy but entertaining production by director Bartlett Sher.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Opera Review: It's Still the Same Old Story

The Met's new Roméo et Juliette is handsome but unnecessary.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Star-crossed and Bible black: Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau are Roméo et Juliette.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
In Second Empire France, the libretto-writing team of Julies Barbier and Michael Carré were the go-to guys for adapting great literature for the operatic stage. They set Faust (for Charles Gounod) and Hamlet (for Ambroise Thomas) with questionable results. However, their cut-down Roméo et Juliette (with music by Gounod) remains one of their definite successes. At the Metropolitan Opera of the 21st century, Bartlett Sher serves much the same function. On Wednesday night, Peter Gelb's director of choice was once more at the helm of this new production of Romeo et Juliette, his seventh show at the Met.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Mozart Project: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart’s final opera continues to thrill audiences and befuddle theater directors.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Christopher Maltman as Papageno in the Metropolitan Opera production of Die Zauberflöte.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The first question one should ask when staging or attending a performance of Die Zauberflöte is this: Is Mozart’s final opera a coded Masonic message, a serious opera, or a knockabout comedy meant for the audience of an 18th century music hall?

The answer is, yes, it’s all three.

Concert Review: It’s Done With Mirrors

The Yoshiki Classical Special comes to Carnegie Hall.
The pianist Yoshiki in concert at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Ken Pierce © 2017 Piercing Metal

Yoshiki is the leader of X Japan, one of the biggest hard rock bands in the history of his native land. On Thursday and Friday last week, the drummer, pianist and composer brought his softer side to two concerts at Carnegie Hall/ And on Friday night, the aptly named Yoshiki Classical Special was filmed for international broadcast. The concert featured Yoshiki at the piano, backed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The flamboyant pianist struck an heroic figure on the stage, but was polite and even soft-spoken with his fans, who listened to three hours of vocal and instrumental works, most of them featuring his skills at the piano. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Opera Review: The Way the Big Wheel Spins

The New York City Opera bets the farm on Candide.
The cast of Candide hoofs through "What's the Use?" in Act II of the Leonard
Bernstein comedy. Photo by Sarah Shartz © 2017 The New York City Opera.
In 1982, the legendary Broadway director Hal Prince mounted Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at the New York City Opera. That show did much to salvage the reputation of the composer's most problematic stage work. Candide first came to life as a Broadway musical. It bombed, was rewritten (with a new libretto) and rebuilt an operetta with slight plot differences. The Prince solution was to present a sort of hybrid, a revised, two-act comedy that filtered Voltaire's cynicism through Bernstein's gift for a good tune supported by musical references to most of the major opera composers that had come before.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Concert Review: Achilles' Last Stand

Alan Gilbert takes in the challenges of Beethoven and Brahms.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The pianist Stephen Hough joined the Mew York Philharmonic this week.
Photo by Hiroyuki Ito courtesy Harrison Parrott
In his time at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, music director Alam Gilbert has left a legacy of innovation and a commitment to modernity. However, his performances of warhorses by both Beethoven and Brahms have brought middling or muddled results. On Wednesday night, Mr. Gilbert got another chance to test his mettle with this music, leading the former’s Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") and the latter's Third Symphony at David Geffen Hall.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Opera Review: A Cabinet of Carnage

David Lang goes for the gut (literally) with anatomy theater.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
'This pity she's a corpse: Marc Kudisch and Peabody Southwell share
a tender moment in anatomy theater. Photo by Craig T. Mathew amd James Matthew Daniel.

It started with beer and sausage. On arriving at the downtown Brooklyn space BRIC, I checked my coat and was directed to the blacked-out "surgeon's lounge" for tankards of Brooklyn Lager and the aforementioned wurst, served on hard rolls slathered with mustard by pretty, in character serving-girls. Then a funeral drum beat its merciless tattoo and the waitresses turned savage. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Opera Review: A Sea of Troubles

Breaking the Waves sails into New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jan (John Moore) and Bess (Kiera Duffy) go to the altar in the first act of Breaking the Waves.
Photo by Dominic M. Mercier © 2016 Opera Philadelphia.
The Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is a master of human misery, exploring the depths of men and women in a four decade career. His 1996 film Breaking the Waves is the inspiration for the opera of the same name by composer Missy Mazzoli. First mounted last fall at Opera Philadelphia, Waves is the centerpiece of the 2017 PROTOTYPE Festival, celebrating contemporary opera here in New York City. It is the second opera based on von Trier's "Golden Heart Trilogy", following Selma Jezková, which composer Poul Ruders based on Dancer in the Dark.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Opera Review: Curtains for a Super-Spy

The Prototype Festival stages Mata Hari.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dancing undercover: Tina Miller (center) in a scene from Mata Hari.
Photo by Benjamin Heller © 2017 HERE and the Prototype Festival.
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod, known to history as "Mata Hari", is an ideal subject for opera. And now, thanks to the Prototype Festival, she is. Friday night marked the second New York performance of Mata Hari, created by the team of composer Matt Marks and Paul Peers and kicking off this January celebration of modern operatic works.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Concert Review: No Funny Business

The New York Philharmonic premieres H.K. Gruber's Piano Concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Emanuel Ax (left) Alan Gilbert (right) and the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
It's a new year at the New York Philharmonic, and the orchestra has wasted no time giving the first big premiere of 2017. Thursday night's concert featured the world premiere of a Piano Concerto by Austrian composer H.K. Gruber, with frequent visitor Emanuel Ax at the piano and music director Alan Gilbert back in his familiar place on the podium.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Festival Preview: Bruckner Symphony Cycle

Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Berlin Staatskapelle.
Photo © 2016 Accentus Music and the Berlin Staatskapelle.
On January 19, conductor Daniel Barenboim ends a four-year absence from Carnegie Hall with a first for that historic venue. He will lead the Berlin Staatskapelle in a cycle of nine numbered symphonies by Anton Bruckner and major piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Festival Preview: 2017 Prototype Festival

Femme fatales, infidelity, gross anatomy and yes...opera!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This conceptual image for Julian Wachner's Rev. 23 promises a hot two weeks
of avant-garde opera at the fifth annual Prototype Festival.
Image © 2017 Prototype Festival.
New York's celebration of avant-garde opera in the dead of winter returns for its fifth season with the eagerly awaited New York premiere of Breaking The Waves as the marquee event. There are six new works being performed, plus one being workshopped. In addition, the Festival offers pop-up concerts, music, dance, multimedia presentations and the odd swanky soirée.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Rossini's comic brilliance lights up the Met stage...again.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Figaro (on cart) makes his grand entrance in Act I of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Photo © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met brings joy and warmth into the middle of winter with this January 2017 revival of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This version of the opera is sung in Italian and presented without cuts.

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