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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy I: Mahler's First

An exploration of the conductor's second cycle of Mahler symphonies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Combination of cover art from two different pressings of the Mahler Symphony No. 1. 
Drawing by Erte, photographs © 1989 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics.
Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday (August 25th of this year) has been met with performances and festival devoted to his musical output. However, it could be argued that his achievements as a conductor are as important as his compositions. With thirty years of recordings to choose from, which makes it necessary to choose a microcosm from which one can generate a judgment. For these purposes, that microcosm will be Bernstein's late recordings of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, made in the last decade of his life.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Concert Review: A Grand Night for D Major

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the National Youth Orchestra.</>
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The players wore red pants: The National Youth Orchestra.
Photo © 2018 Weill Music Institute.
The National Youth Orchestra is Carnegie Hall's program for training young musicians through its Weill Music Institute. For the past five years, musicians have gone through a rigorous three-week training program in New York with professional musicians, culminating in a concert at that famous venue and a goodwill tour. This year's edition of the NYO debuted on Thursday night under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Recordings Review: A Show For Our Troubled Times

Opera Saratoga unleashes The Cradle Will Rock.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The cast of Opera Saratoga's searing new recording of The Cradle Will Rock.
Image © Opera Saratoga and Bridge Classics.
There is no show in the history of New York theater with a more troubled history than The Cradle Will Rock. This hybrid between serious drama, operetta and musical comedy was written in 1937 by composer Marc Blitzstein, only to run smack dab into government bureaucracy, anti-Communist paranoia and union regulations that conspired to kybosh its planned first performance at the Maxine Eliot Theater. (The show had been sponsored by the Federal Theater and the Works Progress Administration, but the theater was padlocked four days before the scheduled premiere.) Mr. Blitzstein took the show, its actors and singers twenty-one blocks  uptown to the Phoenix Theater. There, he led the performances from a stage piano as actors, sitting in the house, sung out their parts on cue.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Concert Review: They See Perpetual Change

Yes celebrate fifty years of music on Staten Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The men of Yes (Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, John Davison, Jay Schellen, Alan White (obscured) and Billy Sherwood)
play "Awaken." Photo by Paul J. Pelkonen.
The membership of the seminal British progressive rock band Yes is anything but stable. Yes musicians have  entered, exited, joined, quit , rejoined, quit again and even been replaced by whole symphony orchestras in the course of a stormy and complex  narrative. Every tour is different from the one before, not just in terms of setlist but in terms of personnel. Adding to the complication: the fact that there are currently two touring bands calling themselves Yes. One of these, referred to on Facebook as "Yes Official" is playing North American theaters this summer. That lineup took the stage at the gorgeous St. George Theater on Staten Island on Sunday night. The show was a three-hour celebration, drawing music from all five decades of the band’s thorny existence.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

The state of Superconductor, July 2018.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Art from The Simpsons episode "Marge on the Lam" © 1993 Gracie Films
Hi all. Paul here. Some of you may have noticed that posts on this usually stalwart blog have gotten spotty of late, with a couple of posts a week instead of the usual steady stream of words about the classical music and opera scene in and around New York in elsewhere. We’re not pleased about this either and I thought I should lay down here what’s going on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Recordings Review: New Maps for Topographic Oceans

Yes compile the five Steven Wilson Remixes.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from Roger Dean's cover art for Yes: The Steven Wilson Remixes.
Displayed here for promotional purposes only © 2018 Roger Dean and Yes.
In the vast catalogue of the British progressive rock band Yes, there are five studio albums that are considered (by fans and critics alike) to be the band’s height. Released between 1970 and 1974, they are: The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. (Only two of these records feature the same lineup.) Taken in sequence, they track a remarkable evolution, from a jazz-inflected group heavily influenced by psychedelia to pioneers exploring new oceans of sound. The five albums are now available as a luxe vinyl boxed set, a cheaper CD edition or (reviewed here) a set of high-quality .mp3 downloads at a bargain basement price.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Recordings Review: This is (Double) Jeopardy!

Boston's Shostakovich cycle with Andris Nelsons continues with No. 4 and No. 11.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.

Some Shostakovich symphonies are more popular than others. The Fifth (more on that in a minute) and the Tenth (a reaction to the death of Stalin) are relatively optimistic and are programmed by larger orchestras. The Seventh's reputation rests on the occasion of its birth. (It was written under fire as the Nazis attacked Leningrad.) Of the remainder, it is rare indeed to hear an orchestra tackle No. 4 and No. 11, so Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are to be accoladed for releasing these two very different and very difficult works together as the latest entry in the conductor's ongoing project: a recorded cycle of the complete Shostakovich symphonies.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Recordings Review: When the White Gloves Come Off

Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic play Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You like me: Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
The relationship between a conductor and an orchestra, particularly one where said conductor is signing a contract to become that ensemble's music director is a difficult thing to track. Public relations departments become surrounded by walls of silence. Questions from the media are deflected or restricted to carefully managed press conferences. With all that secrecy, one must rely on live performances and recorded documentation to assess such a relationship.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.