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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.

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.

On Crossing Barriers and Finding Escapes

Reflecting on ten years of Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The office.
Tonight, Monday night. I was walking across Lincoln Center Plaza on route to the Metropolitan Opera to go see second performance of The Exterminating Angel, the new opera by Thomas Àdes.
This is the story of a group of wealthy individuals who find themselves trapped in a particular living space after a very strange dinner party. It got me thinking about the original purpose of this blog and how Superconductor started at now however ten years into existence where the blog maybe going.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Concert Review: They're Going for Baroque

A revived Renaissance rock Town Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rave Tesar, Annie Haslam and Mark Lambert of Renaissance.
Photo by the author.
The history of England's progressive rock bands can be labyrinthine, with musicians slipping in and out of lineups, changes of artistic direction and fallow periods as long-running acts dealt with the rise of punk, disco, new wave and the unremitting hostility of the music press. Renaissance are one of those bands, and on Saturday night, they returned to the stage of Town Hall armed with six members and a chamber orchestra. The show, billed as Renaissance: A Symphonic Journey was their first Manhattan stage appearance in five years,

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Concert Review: The Tale of the Broken Wand

The NJSO continues its Harry Potter project.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dueling lessons: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter (with Kenneth Branagh, right) in a scene
from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLD™ J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second installment in the eight-film Warner Brothers film series chronicling the adventures and education of a certain young wizard is the longest and most immersive movie in the series. On Saturday, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra offered two performances of the complete score concurrent with a screening of the film at NJPAC. Once more, stately Prudential Hall was filled with Potter fans, who seemed (sadly) more interested in the film onscreen than the orchestra playing the score.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Opera Review: Hot Rails to Hell

The BSO brings back The Damnation of Faust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Charles Dutoit (on podium) leads Paul Groves, Susan Graham and John Relyea in the trio from
Part III of The Damnation of Faust. Photo by Hilary Scott for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
I'm going open this review on a personal note.

Ten years (and change) age, I posted the first review on Superconductor, of the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Hector Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust. That concert (you can read about it here) was at Carnegie Hall under the baton of James Levine. In honor of that anniversary, I took an early morning Amtrak to Boston yesterday to see the BSO perform The Damnation of Faust.

It was worth the trip.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Concert Review: Baton Man Returns

Alan Gilbert is open the Bernstein's Philharmonic festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert returned to the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
Of the clouds gathered lately over the New York Philharmonic, the darkest has surely been the departure of music director Alan Gilbert last season. Mr. Gilbert, the son of two orchestra members who was hailed as a breath of fresh air when he was hired, ended his time with the Philharmonic in June of 2017, after a relatively brief tenure of eight years. This week marked the conductor's first concerts with his old band since his exit. It was also the first program inBernstein's Philharmonic: a three-week festival celebrating the centennial of the orchestra's most famous and most beloved music director.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Madama Butterfly

East meets West with disastrous consequences in Puccini's tragedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A dancer in the opening scene of the Met's production of Madama Butterfly.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met struck operatic gold earlier this year with its La bohéme. As another relatively new soprano, Hui He sings her first Met performances as Cio-Cio San, the company hopes that their Puccini luck continues. This is one of the greatest love stories of the operatic canon. It's a sharp commentary on American imperialism and the uncaring treatment of "natives" by "enterprising" Yankee vagabonds. It's both. It's brilliant. It's Butterfly.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Opera Review: We're Sending Our Love Down the Well

The City Opera interrogates Dolores Claiborne.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This job is murder: Vera Donovan (Jessica Tyler Wright, left) lectures the title character (Lisa Chavez) in
a scene from Dolores Claiborne. Photo by Sarah Shatz © 2017 New York City Opera.
In its heyday, the stage of the New York City Opera was a laboratory for experimentation and the presentation of operas on the cutting edge. Depending on the season, said experiments included dusty works of the high Baroque, long-forgotten bel canto treasures or, most frequently, the unloved bastard child of Europe: American modern opera. This week, Michael Capasso's reborn City Opera chose the latter: the long-overdue New York premiere of Tobias Picker's 2013 opera Dolores Claiborne.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Concert Review: Famous When You're Dead

The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia plays Mahler and Sciarrino.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Antonio Pappano.
Photo © 2010 Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
What is "fame"? What is the "canon"? And what is the elusive quality that entitles a composer to enshrinement in that small group of music makers that have been venerated from one century to the next, their works resounding in concert halls around the world. Those thoughts apply to Saturday night's concert at Carnegie Hall, where the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Sir Antonio Pappano offered an evening in two parts: the New York premiere of a new work by Salvatore Sciarrino and Gustav Mahler's weighty Symphony No. 6.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tales from Typographic Oceans

Or…reflections on doing everything yourself with your hands tied behind your back.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Don't worry everybody, sh'cool. Photo creator unknown. 

Hi readers!

I feel compelled to step from behind the digital curtain for a moment and address something that happened on the blog last week. There was a post, The Idea of North reviewing the visiting Orchestre symphonique de Montréal at Carnegie Hall. On further examination, that particular piece was riddled with typographical errors. (Those errors have been corrected, and the persons doing these titles have now been sacked.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Concert Review: Trailing Clouds of Glory...

The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia comes to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sorceress: Martha Argerich casts a spell.
Photo @ Warmer Brothers Classics.
Any visit to Carnegie Hall by a major international orchestra is cause for excitement. This week, the visitors are Rome’s own Orchestra of the National Academy of St. Cecilia, under the baton of Sir Antonio Pappano. The guest soloist for Friday night's concert: Martha Argerich. This legendary Argentiniean pianist is more than an audience favorite. Now 76, her skill, reculsivity and flat refusal to give solo recitals in the later part of her career has made her a modern concertizing legend. This was her first visit to the Perelman Stage in nine years.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Concert Review: The Idea of North

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal revient au Carnegie Hall.
Conductor Kent Nagano poses n a street in vieux Montréal.
Photo from Harrison Parrott.

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (for the rest of this review, referred to as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) is one of the finest symphonic ensembles in North America. They are a stellar symphonic ensemble with a long history and a sound all their own, combining precise European string playing with the lusty, leather-lunged brass one associates with this continent. However, they have been relatively infrequent visitors to the Carnegie stage in the past  decaderecently have New Yorkers been able to hear this superb orchestra enjoyed by our neighbors to the North.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Opera Review:!

The Metropolitan Opera revives Turandot.
James Morris (center) celebrated 1,000 performances at the Metropolitan Opera on
Tuesday. Here he appears as Timur in  Turandot with Aleksandrs Antonenko (left) as
The Unknown Prince and Maria Agresta (right) as Liù in Puccini's opera.
Photo by Marty Sohl copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.

Turandot is Giacomo Puccini’s final, unfinished work. It is a a grand fantasy of legendary China as reimagined through the lens of Italian romanticism. It is a farm tale, the story of an ice-hearted princess and the fearless Prince who wins her hand. It is seen (wrongly) as the end point of the genre of Italian opera. It is also, along with La bohème, the last of the Metropolitan Opera’s giant Franco Zeffirelli productions, crowded extravaganzas that evoke the opulence of a bygone era. (In this case, we’re talking about the 1980s.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Exterminating Angel

Thomas Adès' new opera arrives, where no-one is allowed to leave.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The party's not over: a scene from The Exterminating Angel.
Photo by Monika Rittershaus from the Salzburg Festival, courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
A group of strangers are held in place by a mysterious force. Is it Stephen King's Under the Dome? The Eagle's "Hotel California?" No, it's The Exterminating Angel, a new opera based on the work that may have inspired those works of art,  The opera is based on the surreal 1962 film by Luis Buñue. At a strange dinner party, the guests find out that they are not allowed to leave. Their imprisonment turns comedy into drama and reveals the base nature of the many protagonists.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Opera Review: The Exes Mark the Spot

Vittorio Grigolo procrastinates through Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left behind: Stella (Anna Hartig, center) leaves Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left)
with the diabolical Lindorf (right) in the finale of Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
As a writer, it's hard not to have a soft spot for Les contes d'Hoffmann. No matter how many times this reviewer has seen it (ten), the final opera by Jacques Offenbach (English title: "The Tales of Hoffmann") never fails to move. Offenbach's opera, which was unfinished at the time of the composer's death, features the poet, composer and writer E.T.A. Hoffmann as the unwilling and unwitting protagonist of his own fantastical stories. He sits in a Munich tavern, drinking and telling tales of his past romantic affairs as he waits for his beloved Stella, an opera singer performing next door.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Concert Review: Earth-Shattering Kabooms

Paavo Järvi conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Paavo Järvii led the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo © Harrison  Parrott.
The New York Philharmonic is (finally) back from a galaxy far, far away. This week marked the orchestra’s second traditional program of the season, with guest conductor Paavo Järvi leading works by composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen alongside music by Rachmaninoff and Sibelius. For Mr. Järvi, son of a famed Estonian conductor and a maestro in his own right (currently with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo) this was a concert that played squarely to his strengths.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Concert Review: Where Science Has Lease

The Orchestra of St. Luke's opens its season at Carnegie Hall.
Pablo Heras-Casado.
Photo from the conductor's official website.
All entities must evolve to survive, and the Orchestra of St. Lukes has undergone some changes in recent years. The ensemble, which originated playing chamber music at the Church of St. Lukes in the Fields in Greenwich Village has had, since 2011,  a permanent address: the Dimenna Center on Manhattan's West Side. They are also about to change music directors again, with period performance expert Bernard Labardie slotted to replace Pablo Heras-Casado next season.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Bleeding Hearts and Artists

The American Symphony Orchestra stands up for what's right.
Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland back in the day.
Photo from the estate of Leonard Bernstein.

A peculiar sense of existential dread hung over Wednesday night’s concert at Carnegie Hall, the first of the young season featuring the American Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its long time music director Dr. Leon Botstein. For this concert, titled “The Sounds of Democracy”,Dr. Botstein chose 20th century music by Leonard Bernstein, Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland, leading lights of American music in the last century but now largely ignored by the fast-food reality-television culture of the 21st.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is Not Dead

Russian baritone "sleeping peacefully" at home.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his most recent appearance at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
Earlier tonight Superconductor posted that the 54 year old Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky had died. Apparently he is not dead, but sleeping peacefully next to his wife Florence at his London home. Earlier today, a Russian news website had reported his death.

Opera Review: Flowers in the Attic

Singing defeats spectacle in the Met's latest La bohème.
Angel Blue and Dmytro Popov share a tender moment in Act III of   La bohème.
Photo by Marty Sohl Copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera’s Franco Zeffirelli production of La bohème is the company's biggest export. Seen in films and commercials, this series of ginormous Parisian picture postcards can swallow up singers. With 250 people onstage at one point in Act II and a huge simulated blizzard in Act III, this show risks rendering the love story of Rodolfo and Mimì redundant in the face of its spectacle. However, thanks to a stellar cast of young singers and a fresh face on the podium, this current revival is quite possibly the Met’s best Bohème in many years.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Moscow is Back on the Hudson

The Met and the Bolshoi prepare to make music together.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Going Vegas? Anna Netrebko's new Aida at the Met will be staged by Michael Mayer.
Here, the diva sings in front of the Luxor Hotel thanks to the magic of digital photo alteration.
Image © Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas. Image of Anna Netrebko © Salzburg Festival. Photoshop by Lord Voldemort.

The Metropolitan Opera has locked down its plans for three new productions between 2019 and 2021. The operas in question are Aida, Salome and Lohengrin Finally, these three new productions will be staged in collaboration with the Bolshoi Theater, the Russian-based opera and ballet company that is Moscow's biggest opera house. Each of these three premieres will feature soprano Anna Netrebko in prominent roles: the title role in Aida and Salome and as Elsa in Lohengrin.

Concert Review: Saving the Galaxy (and the franchise)

The New York Philharmonic ends its Star Wars marathon. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Adam Driver as the villainous Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Image © 2015 The Walt Disney Corporation used for promotional purposes only.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII to fans) hit movie theaters in 2015, the franchise's fanbase had a right to be nervous. Would this new film, produced by Disney and set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi bring the Force back into balance? Or would it be another dark, turgid history lesson in the vein of the murky "Prequel Trilogy?" Happily, Force Awakens is the former, and the New York Philharmonic paid tribute to the next generation of Jedi with Saturday night's concert, the second of two complete performances of the John Williams score and the last in the orchestra's four-film cycle of Star Wars performances.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Turandot

Fantastical, phantasmagorical and faintly ridiculous.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's amore: Marcelo Alvarez (center) woos Turandot as thousands cheer.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's elaborate production of Puccini's final opera returns to the delight of people who like "Nessun dorma" and big, elaborate productions.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Concert Review: Of Intimacies and Mortal Thoughts

Mischa Maisky and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra open the 92nd St. Y season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mischa Maisky. Photo © Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
Ask a music lover (like your humble narrator!) what hall has the "best" acoustics in New York, and the response might well be the Kaufman Auditorium. This wood-paneled, intimate hall is the centerpiece of the 92nd St. Y, that educational and cultural center that stands foremost among such institutions on Manhattan’s swanky Upper East Side. In addition to its lectures, social events and educational programs, the 'Y' offers top-flight lieder, chamber music and occasional orchestral concerts, all of which are among the finest New York offers in terms of musical quality. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Concert Review: Four-Armed is Forewarned

The Philadelphia Orchestra opens Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The pianist Lang Lang. Presumably this is not how he injured his left hand before Wednesday night's season-opening Carnegie Hall concert where he played with Chick Corea and Maxim Lando. Photo © Sony Classical.

How do you get three pianists to play together?

That conundrum, explored by only a few composers over the centuries, was what faced Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra as they prepared for Wednesday night's concert opening the 2017-18 season at Carnegie Hall. The program featured two Leonard Bernstein works flanking George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. This was an important concert for the resurgent Philadelphians, who missed their chance to play opening night three years ago. It was also a crucial concert for music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whose profile has risen in New York since he accepted the post of music director at the Metropolitan Opera, effective in the 2020 season.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Carnegie Hall 2017-2018 Season Preview

The Hall Where Music Lives sets the wayback machine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Two visitors check out Carnegie Hall (left) in the 1960s.
Sherman and Mr. Peabody © Dreamworks Entertainment.
The science of time travel is not normally associated with the classical music business. And yet, one might argue that the finest time travel device in New York City stands not in some hidden laboratory but on the corner of 57th St. and Seventh Avenue. That's right, it's Carnegie Hall, whose 2017-18 season offers the intrepid listener a chance to travel between centuries and musical worlds.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Concert Review: Sometimes the Bad Guys Win

The New York Philharmonic plays The Empire Strikes Back.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The father-son reunion at the climax of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Image © 1980 LucasFilm, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is generally considered to be the best Star Wars film ever made. The dark middle chapter of the original trilogy came out in 1980 as the second movie released, and remains a firm fan favorite. It boasts an expanded universe, a complicated storyline alternating between the flight of Han Solo and Princess Leia from the evil and remorseless Darth Vader, and the Jedi training of Luke Skywalker at the hands of the diminuitive but wise Yoda.

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