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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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Concert Review: It's Time to Rise

The Czech Philharmonic plays Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Semyon Bychkov in rapture. Photo by Chris Christodoulou.

In New York City, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, popularly known as the "Resurrection Symphony", is a work that is played in troubled times. It was performed by the New York Philharmonic after September 11, and on that event's tenth anniversary. So it is appropriate, given the roiling political climate in the United States in recent days, that it was the choice of the Czech Philharmonic for Sunday's concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Concert Review: The Uplift War

The Czech Philharmonic celebrates a centennial at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Zip it. Semyon Bychkov in action at the Proms in 2013.
Photo by Chris Christodoulou from
The relationship between an orchestra and its music director is like a marriage under the trial period of a business contract.. For Semyon Bychkov and the Prague-based Czech Philharmonic, the honeymoons continuing into the ensemble's current North American tour.. Conductor and orchestra have released new recordings of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. Their current jaunt is in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Czech independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is currently stopped at Carnegie Hall.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Concert Review: Steppe-ing Up Their Game

A new conductor lands at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The conductor Tughan Sokhiev.
Photo courtesy the Orchestra Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse.
Prior to this week, the  Russian conductor Tughan Sokhiev was an unknown quantity at the New York Philharmonic. Currently music director of the Bolshoi Theater and the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse, he made his debut on the podium at David Geffen Hall, armed with a triptych of works from his native land by Borodin, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Concert Review: A Militant Faith

The Orchestra of St. Luke's and La Chapelle de Québec get mass-ive.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New Orchestra of St. Luke's principal conductor Bernard Labadie (center)
lead vocal soloists  (soprano Lauren Snouffer, mezzo Susan Graham, tenor Lothar Odinius and bass-baritone Philippe Sly)
 and La Chapelle de Québec (rear)in a concert at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. Photo by Adam Stoltman © 2018 Orchestra of St. Luke's
In its 44-year history, the musical direction of the Orchestra of St. Luke's has been steered by the musician appointed to the post of Principal Conductor. The latest to take the job is Bernard Labadie, the Quebécois conductor and early music specialist. So it is unsurprising that Mr. Labadie's first concert at Carnegie Hall leading his new orchestra was sacred music: Haydn's "Nelson" Mass and the Mozart Requiem.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Mefistofele

Arrigo Boito retells the Faust legend, from the Devil's perspective. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mefistofele (in the red pajamas, left) faces down the heavenly hoist in Boito's opera.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
There are many operatic takes on the story of Faust, the medieval scholar who sells his soul to the Devil for the gifts of youth and the experience of love. This is the most cosmic: a struggle between good and evil that places the audience's sympathy squarely with its horned title character.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Recordings Review: Babylon and On...and On

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment records Semiramide. (All of it.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's good to be the queen: Albina Shagimuratova is Semiramide.
Photo courtesy Askonas Holt.
Time has not always been kind to the opera seria of Gioacchino Rossini. While his comedies, led by Il Barbiere di Siviglia are regularly presented on stages around the world, one is less likely to encounter his serious works. Among the finest of these is Semiramide, his 34th opera and his last opera written (in 1823) for an Italian theater. It is the subject of a new and exhaustive recording of the complete score, by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Mark Elder. Made in the summer of 2016 at London's Henry Wood Hall, and sprawling on four discs, this four-hour Semiramide offers windows into two different operatic worlds: Rossini's own era and the boom period where studio recordings were common.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Bitter Fruit of Obsessive Love

Some thoughts on Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from a caricature of Hector Berlioz by Anton Elfinger.
The caption read: "Heureusement la salle est solide... elle résiste." © 1982 University of Chicago Press.

If you've read Superconductor since the beginning you know that this blog has spent a lot of column length on the music of Hector Berlioz. Berlioz was an author and a music critic (much like your humble narrator.) He was also a revolutionary and romantic composer who cut an eccentric but fearless path through the cutthroat world of the Paris music scene in his lifetime. His Symphonie-fantastique, which burst upon the world in 1829, was one of the reasons for the rise of program music in the 19th century. Even more revolutionary was his use of a recurring motif or idée-fixe, whose development over the course of five movements predicted the Wagnerian idea of leitmotif.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Dangers of Cutting the Foot From a Flute

An argument for performing all of Die Zauberflöte.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo by D. Mitchell

Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute is Mozart's final opera, and one that is frequently encountered as a recommended work for those exploring the world of opera for the first time. Written in German but frequently performed (in this country at least) in English. it remains an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a bird costume: a combination of low music hall comedy, Masonic mystery play and singspiel, the German style of opera that was prevalent in the latter years of the eighteenth century.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Recordings Review: A Horse With No Name

John Nelson's new Les Troyens is a modern classic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Can they all fit inside the horse? John Nelsons and his chorus, orchestra and soloists record Les Troyens.
Photo from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg © 2018 Erato/WBC
Hector Berlioz' Les Troyens remains the composer's greatest achievement, although the composer never lived to see a complete performance of the work.  With serious problems of length, casting and staging, it was not until 1921 that Les Troyens was staged complete, as intended, in five acts in a long, single evening.  This live in concert recording by John Nelson and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg brings new life and vitality to this mammoth and misunderstood masterpiece.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Concert Review: The Price of Perfection

Joshua Bell and the New York Philharmonic play The Red Violin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Here's looking at you, kid: Samuel L. Jackson peers into The Red Violin.
Image © 1998 Mikado Pictures
Is it worth it to create the greatest instrument in the history of Western music, even if it costs you everything?

That is the question asked by the 1998 François Girard film The Red Violin, which tracks the creation, birth and long life of its titular object from a workshop in Cremona in the 16th century to an auction house in modern day Montreal. However, more notable than the film is its Academy award-winning score, which is being played this week in conjunction with the film by Joshua bell and the New York Philharmonic. Michael Stern conducted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Two new casts take the stage in two runs of the Puccini potboiler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's good to be the chief: Željko Lučić as Scarpia in the Met's Tosca.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
On New Year's Eve 2017, the Metropolitan Opera raised the curtain on its new production of Tosca. This staging returns the opera to its original Roman setting in a budget-friendly version of one of Puccini's most opulent shows.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Concert Review: Into the Abyss, With a Return Ticket

The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique goes beyond the Fantastique.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Historian at work: Sir John Eliot Gardiner leading the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.
Photo from the official website of The Monteverdi Choir © 2018 SDG
The Symphonie-fantastique, written in 1830 by Hector Berlioz, is in some ways a victim of its own success.

It is programmed somewhere every season, allowing a large symphony orchestra to wow its faithful subscribers with Berlioz' five-movement journey into phantasmagoric landscapes. It is literally an orchestral head trip: from the passions and dreams of a young man to two nightmare movements that are (both) arguably among the greatest tour de force pieces to be written in the 19th century. On Monday night, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique put this much-loved war-horse work in context, programming it alongside its  little-known sequel Lélio for their second concert this week at Carnegie Hall.

Hold up a minute, Mr. Superconductor. There's...a sequel?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Concert Review: Some Roads Lead to Rome

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings old-style Berlioz to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall.
Historically informed performance isn't always pretty. However, it is the specialty of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Founded in 1989, the O.R.R.'s purpose is to play the masterpieces of the early 19th century on the instruments available at that time. On Sunday afternoon, they played the first of two concerts at Carnegie Hall this week, dedicated to that maverick among French composers, Hector Berlioz.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Concert Review: Rising in the East (but not too early)

A morning matinée at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A man and a water tower: David Robertson returned to New York this week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
One could not help but notice, walking into David Geffen Hall on Friday afternoon, that there were some empty seats. These were more noticeable because they had little envelopes taped to them, presumably gifts for subscribers coming to the first Friday morning program of the 2018 season. However, as this concert started with new music, the conservative types who make the biggest Philharmonic contributions were (as is their wont) late to arrive.  Here, conductor David Robertson opened with a performance of another major work by contemporary composer Louis Andriessen, the Dutch composer whose receipt of the 2016 Kravis Prize for new music has led to an in-depth Philharmonic exploration of his catalogue.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Concert Review: Monsters Under the Earth

Two operas end The Angel's Share's first season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Never turn your back on a monster! Tenor Brian Cheney (l) is menaced by Joshua Jeremiah
in Sketches from Frankenstein. Photo by Kevin W. Condon © 2018 Unison Media.
As David Byrne once said, "there is water underground." On Wednesday night, there was whiskey above it, as the final concert of The Angel's Share got underway. Presented by the enterprising Andrew Ousley's Unison Media, this is a unique music experience held in the gloomy depths of the Catacombs, deep within the leafy embrace of Green-Wood Cemetery. For the season finale, Mr. Ousley booked a surefire double bill, with two dramatic works by the promising composer-pianist Greg Kallor.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Marnie

Nico Muhly adapts Hitchcock's 1964 "suspenseful sex mystery" Marnie for the operatic stage. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She'll steal your heart: Isabel Leonard is Marnie in a new opera by Nico Muhly.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

Nico Muhly's second opera for the Met is Marnie, the story of an obsessive relationship that leads to marriage and other interpersonal disasters.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Opera Review: A Blaze of Saddles

Eva-Maria Westbroek shines in Puccini's Golden West.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
California Love: Eva-Maria Westbroek and Yusif Eyvazov in La Fanciulla del West.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
It is a hard existence to be a lesser known work from the pen of a great opera composer, and no opera has suffered more cruel jokes than Puccini's La Fanciulla del West ("The Girl of the Golden West.") Since its premiere on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, Fanciulla has fought for survival, much like the hardscrabble gold miners that make up the bulk of its colorful cast. The opera returned to the Met this month with a good cast. On Monday night, a performance featuring tenor Yusif Eyvazov and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek provided a much needed shot of red blood to an anemic fall season.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Concert Review: This is Why We Fight

The NJSO opens with an impassioned Beethoven's Ninth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Xian Zhang makes her point. Photo © New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is at once in an enviable and difficult position, wedged next to New York City with its wealth of musical institutions. Based in downtown Newark, they  have a great venue in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that not enough people want to visit. That situation makes Opening Night, held last Friday at NJPAC, all the more important. This year marked the third opener for their music director Xian Zhang (pronounced "she-YEN jhong"). To celebrate, this energetic conductor offered a challenging program: two works by important contemporary composers and as a capper, Beethoven's sprawling, challenging Symphony No. 9 in D minor.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Concert Review: The Axe, the King, His Wife and Her Lover

Jaap van Zweden takes his new orchestra for a swim.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Violins is no solution, but in the hands of Leila Josefowicz it's damn impressive.
Photo b Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic is settling into its new relationship with music director Jaap van Zweden, whose contract started just last month. So far the new boss has placed a heavy emphasis on modern music, with works by living composers opening the first three programs of the young season. This week marked the opening of The Art of Andriessen, a program celebrating the large-scale idiosyncratic work of composer Louis Andriessen. (Mr. Andriessen, an award-winning Dutch composer, is best known to New Yorkers for De Materie, an opera that included hovering blimps and a large flock of live sheep.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Obituary: Montserrat Caballé, 1933-2018

The soprano and recording artist was La Superba to her fans.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I've got a secret: the great Montserrat Caballé could sing anything.
One would argue that in opera singers of a vanished age, it was the voice and only the voice that mattered. These words would be fitting as a eulogy for Montserrat Caballé. The soprano, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85, possessed one of the largest and most flexible instruments of her age, succeeding in everything from Rossini to dramatic operas by Puccini and Strauss. The cause of death was listed as a gall bladder infection.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Opera Review: It's Seven o'clock Somewhere

The Mile Long Opera: A Biography of 7 o'clock premieres on the High Line.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Singers at an exhibition: David Lang's Mile Long Opera in performance on The High Line.
Photo by the author.
Composer David Lang is no stranger to presenting operatic and choral works in unusual locations. His latest opus, The Mile Long Opera: A Biography of 7 o'clock is  an a capella opera performed in its entirety by singers stationed on The High Line, the former elevated freight railway on the west side of Manhattan that was saved from demolition in the 2000s. In three phases, this old but structurally sound railway was converted into a public park, a narrow oasis in West Chelsea that served as a spring-point for a kind of frenzied urban development the reminds one of the game SimCity. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Concert Review: Everybody Gets Ice Cream

The San Francisco Symphony opens Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Broadway soprano Audra McDonald lit up opening night at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Autumn de Wilde.
Opening night of Carnegie Hall is a little bit...different. Men's clothes are nattier. Women's necklines dip lower. The concert is shorter, minus the usual intermission. There's an  elegant rooftop dinner for heavy donors. And there's always an A-list special guest (or two), a star attraction that one wouldn't hear on the programs reserved for mere concert-going music enthusiasts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Fanciulla del West

Italian opera goes west...with Jonas Kaufmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just a small-town girl: Eva-Marie Westbroek as Minnie in La Fanciulla del West.
Photo © 2018 Royal Opera House of Covent Garden.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek are reunited in Puccini's boiled spaghetti Western. This is the story of a barmaid and a bandit and their forbidden love against the spectacular backdrop of the California gold rush. It premiered at the Met in 1910. Beloved by connoisseurs, Fanciulla stands as one of the great Italian operas, and a work that is only revived occasionally. See it!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Festival Preview: Hungarian National Opera

Two weeks of opera and ballet, Budapest style.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Levente Molár in a scene from Erkel's seminal Hungarian opera Bánk Bán.
Photo by Attila Nagy. Image © 2018 the Hungarian National Opera.
The Hungarians are coming! For the first time since 2010, the David Koch Theater on the south side of Lincoln Center Plaza will resound with the sound of opera as the Hungarian National Opera comes to New York for a two week festival. The company is currently facing major renovations of its own house in Budapest. So they've decided to bring the exciting and colorful variety of operas from its own country to one of the big Lincoln Center stages. All performances will feature the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director  Balázs Kocsár.

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