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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.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Clemenza di Tito

Mozart's drama of intrigue and attempted assassination in Ancient Rome.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Matthew Polenzani (seen here in the title role of Mozart's Idomeneo)
sings the title role in La Clemenza di Tito at the Metropolitan Opera this season.
Photo © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
A stellar cast (Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, Elza van den Heever) takes the stage in this late season revival of Mozart's opera seria of passion and power politics.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Opera Review: One Little Goat

Amore Opera celebrates a decade with Meyerbeer's Dinorah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Looking for goats in all the wrong places: Jennifer Moore in Dinorah.
Photo © Amore Opera.
Mention composer Giacomo Meyerbeer to an opera lover and they will think of enormous five-movement works with extravagant staging requirements, lengthy ballets and tremendous orchestral and choral requirements. And yet, there was another less elaborate side to the Meyerbeer. This month, the small Amore Opera company, which is celebrating a decade of bringing intimate opera to the ears of New Yorkers, brought back Dinorah. This is an all but forgotten pastoral fairy tale, in the genre of  opera-comique that had not been staged in New York in 100 years. Sung in French and linked with spoken dialogue passages delivered in English, this proved to be a fun Saturday afternoon at the theater at Riverside Church.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Concert Review: Wide Boys

Thomas Adès conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Thomas Adès: Photo by Jesse Costa for the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Although the first conductors were themselves composers, the wearing of both hats at the helm of a symphony orchestra is always cause for comment. On Wednesday night, the British composer Thomas Adès, who is currently in the new role of "Artistic Partner" with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led that band at Carnegie Hall in a program featuring the New York debut of his Piano Concerto.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Concert Review: Call Her Madeleine

Renée Fleming returns to Strauss at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's not done yet: soprano Renée Fleming. Photo by Andrew Eccles.
The soprano Renée Fleming remains a legitimate superstar. So it caused particular turmoil in the operatic world last year when she announced that the performances as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' opera Der Rosenkavalier would be her last...in that role. Last night at Carnegie Hall, Ms. Fleming returned to Strauss as another heroine, the Countess Madeleine in the composer's final opera, Capriccio.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Opera Review: Deviled Eggs

The Washington National Opera's Faust goes directly to Hell.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hellbound: Raymond Aceto as Méphistophélès in Faust.
Photo by Scott Suchman for the Washington National Opera.
In the last hundred years, Charles Gounod's Faust has fallen from the pinnacle of the repertory. Its descent has been rapid, almost as fast as that of its protagonist, a searching scholar who sells his soul to Satan in the opera's first act. Faust has fallen into irrelevance in this new century. Its stirring choruses, sweet harmonies and story of demonic love and angelic redemption seem quaint in this dark age. When fascists are defended in the media by the sitting President, and hatred lurks in the corridors of power, Faust just ain't scary anymore.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Opera Review: The Wasted Generation

The Washington National Opera brings back the Robert Carsen production of Eugene Onegin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Nechaeva falls hard for the title character in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.
Photo courtesy the Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center.
You can take a boy out of New York City but you can’t take New York out of the boy. That aphorism seems to apply to Sunday’s matinee performance of Eugene Onegin by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. This production, the WNO’s first staging of Tchaikovsky’s opera in thirty years, uses the Robert Carsen production that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997. It is still handsome and minimalist, playing out the drama in a box of plain white wall.s the characters move through drifts of leaves, elegantly attired and perching on antique furniture in this stark landscape.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Concert Review: Everything Old is New Again

Conductor Ton Koopman gives a history lesson at the Kennedy Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor, scholar and multi-instrumentalist Ton Koopman led the National Symphony Orchestra
this week at the Kennedy Center. Photo © 2017 Berlin Philharmonic for the digital concert hall.

It’s not every week that a symphony orchestra springs a trio of premieres on its subscription audience, but that's what happened on Friday morning at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. The ensemble was the National Symphony Orchestra and the conductor of said concerts was Ton Koopman. The Amsterdam-based organist, harpsichordist and scholar remains a legend in the field of period and historically informed performance. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Concert Review: The Truth About Wolfgang

Manfred Hönick conducts Mozart's Requiem at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Manfred Honeck signals victory (or something) at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
There is no unfinished work in the canon of Western art music that has more myth, legend and sheer bunkum associated with it than Mozart's Requiem. From the work's (true) mysterious origins to the (false) dramatic stories written around its composition, this work has acquired a life of its own in Western culture. This week at the New York Philharmonic, conductor Manfred Honeck led an all-Mozart program geared toward the music of 1791, the last, turbulent year of Mozart's life.

Concert Review: Vocation or Avocation?

Esa-Pekka Salonen brings back his Cello Concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
And usually just a t-shirt: Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Photo by Laurie Lewis.
In recent years, Esa-Pekka Salonen declared himself to be more interested in composition than the daily drudgeries of running a major symphony orchestra. However, his recent slate of podium appearances with the Philharmonia Orchestra indicate that Mr. Salonen's baton has lost none of its bite. On Monday night, Mr. Salonen led the Philharmonia (which he will depart from in 2020 for a job with the San Francisco Symphony) in the second of two concerts at Lincoln Center this week, with his own Cello Concerto flanked by orchestral works by Sibelius and Stravinsky.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Concert Review: The Answers Lie Within

The Chamber Music Society kicks off its Russian Panorama festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Like these Matroyshka dolls, Russian musical tradition has a complicated history.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is on a mission this month: to explore the vast and mostly ignored field of Russian music beyond the "big names." True, the chamber works of Tchaikovsky and the quartets of Shostakovich are repertory staples, but Sunday's concert at Alice Tully Hall was dedicated (with one notable exception) to composers whose catalogues are new to Western ears.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Walküre

The Met revives the most popular chapter of Wagner's Ring.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The twins Sieglinde (Eva-Marie Westbroek) and Siegmund (Stuart Skelton)
fall in love under the looming Machine in the Met's production of Die Walküre.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Part Two of the Ring brings humans into the story, but the Gods have already messed everything up. Wotan, the ruler of the Gods, seeks a hero to lead his forces against the dark elf Alberich. But he finds himself in a position of having to murder that hero Siegmund. This is too much for his favorite daughter, the Valkyrie Brunnhilde. She rebels against him, and then runs for her life.

What is Die Walküre?
Properly speaking, this is the "First Day" of the four-part "festival play" that is Wagner's Ring. (The composer regarded Das Rheingold as a "preliminary evening.) This is the most famous and frequently performed of the four operas that make up the cycle.

What's the plot?
On a dark and stormy night, the Wälsung twins Siegmund and Sieglinde are reunited, seemingly by chance. They fall in love, committing adultery and incest at the same time. (The result of their brief union will be the title character of Siegfried.) Wotan, who is their father, is forced by his wife Fricka (the goddess of marriage) to order Brunnhilde the Valkyrie fight for Sieglinde's jilted husband Hunding. Brunnhilde rebels, but Hunding kills Siegmund anyway. Brunnhilde saves Sieglinde from Wotan. She is then punished by her father, put to sleep on top of a rock in a ring of magic fire.

What's the music like?
Die Walküre is the opera people think of when they think of Wagner. The first act is all passion as Sieglinde and Siegmund find each other and fall madly in love. The second act has a long stretch of Wotan reiterating all the mistakes he made in Das Rheingold to Brunnhilde. Its second half is all action, as Siegmund battles Hunding. The "Ride of the Valkyries" (that's "kill the wabbit") opens the third act. The "Magic Fire Music" ends the opera in a storm of orchestral virtuosity.

Tell me something else cool!
Of the four Ring operas, it is Die Walküre that hews closest to Wagner's theories of opera and drama. There are few aria-like moments, and the opera is composed mostly of dialogue and duets over a thundering orchestra.

How's the production?
These performances mark the  return of Robert Lepage's sometimes stunning, sometimes problematic multi-million dollar stage set, known at the Met as "The Machine." Mounted on two huge towers, the action takes place on a series of gigantic parallel planks that rotate on a central axis. By changing their angles and locking the planks in place, the Machine creates trees, mountains, valleys and even huge flying animals when necessary. Digital projections render the scenery in vivid patterns, a high-tech solution to Romantic 19th century opera.

Who's in it?
These performances star Greer Grimsley as Wotan, and mark the eagerly anticipated arrival of Christine Goerke as his rebellious daughter Brunnhilde. Jamie Barton is Fricka. The twins Siegmund and Sieglinde are reprised by Stuart Skelton and Eva-Marie Westbroek. (They sang these roles in 2012.) Günther Gröissbock is the villainous Hunding.  Philippe Jordan conducts his first Ring performances at the Met.

When does it open?
There are only five performances of Die Walküre this season. Three are being sold as part of complete Ring cycles. The two in March are on March 25 and 30.

How do I get tickets?
The best way to see the Ring is to get a subscription for the four operas. Call the box office at (212) 362-6000.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Concert Review: Knocking Out the Heavyweight

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Bruckner Seventh.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen does his best Karajan face. Photo © Signum Classics.
In the course of his conducting career, the Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen has focused heavily on the music of contemporary composers and the 20th century. True, there's been Beethoven here and there, and excursions into Wagner. However, as Mr. Salonen prepares to take over a new job in San Francisco, a reconsideration of repertory is no bad thing. This might explain why the first of Mr. Salonen's two concerts this weekend with the Philharmonia Orchestra focused exclusively on one of Anton Bruckner's enormous late symphonies, specifically the Symphony No. 7.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Concert Review: Some Famous Last Words

Long Yu conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yo-Yo Ma. Photo © 2019 Sony Classical.
The last compositions by any composer, especially those with shortened lives like Modest Mussorgsky and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, command a certain respect from listeners. This week at the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra played works by each man, flanking the New York premiere of a new concerto for pipa and cello by the second-generation Chinese composer Zhao Lin. The orchestra was conducted by Long Yu, who has developed a tremendous reputation in his own country (he has been referred to as the "Chinese Valery Gergiev") but has yet to break into podium stardom here.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Opera Review: The Return of Robot Monster

The Met brings back the Ring, and the "Machine."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Striking it rich: Tomasz Konieczny had a strong Met debut as Alberich in Das Rheingold.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Which might account for why the Metropolitan Opera chose this spring to revive its huge, hideously expensive and critically pounded Robert Lepage staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. There are three cycles this season, and a few extra performances of the opera. Saturday afternoon marked the start of Cycle I, a sold-out Das Rheingold that, unaccountably still had a few empty seats.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Concert Review: The Music Doesn't Lie

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Schubert at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (center) Jan Lisiecki (right) and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo by Ebru Yildiz for National Public Radio.
New York's relationship with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has undergone a fundamental change since the maestro added the music directorship of the Metropolitan Opera to his duties. On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, his entrance was met with a storm of applause for a conductor, who was leading his other ensemble, the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program of Schubert, Mendelssohn and a new piece by Nico Muhly. He has become a beloved and essential musical figure, who will hopefully only rise in prominence in the decade to come.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Concert Review: A Meeting of Kindred Spirits

Sir András Schiff pairs Schumann and Janáček at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir András Schiff. Photo by Paul Schiffli for the Lucerne Festival.
"You have to understand that the two composers on this program have absolutely nothing to do with each other."

This remark, met with laughter from a packed Carnegie Hall, was delivered by the Hungarian pianist Sir András Schiff as part of a short lecture that he gave before the second half of Thursday night's piano recital. The concert consisted of four works, two by Robert Schumann and two by Leoš Janáček. Sir András pointed out that Janáček was only six years old when Schumann died in Bonn, Germany, and that while one of these men was raised in the German musical tradition, the other was completely self-taught.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Concert Review: Beyond the Realms of Death

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Mahler's Ninth Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New world man: Michael Tilson Thomas.
Photo by Vahan Stepanyan from michaeltilsonthomas.com

Gustav Mahler once said that "a symphony must be like the world." His Symphony No. 9 (the composer's last complete work) moves well beyond earthly experience. On Wednesday night, Michael Tilson Thomas and the Vienna Philharmonic tried to wring every drop of meaning from its four sphinx-like movements in a sprawling performance at Carnegie Hall. Stretching the endurance of musicians, audience and the music itself, their efforts may have met with some success.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Concert Review: When They Were Kings

The Vienna Philharmonic sets the wayback machine at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Vienna Philharmonic on tour in Europe.
Photo by Filip Waldmann from michaeltilsonthomas.com.

Imagine dear reader, that it's forty-odd years ago. You're reading this review not on a screen but in the pages of a local black and white newspaper, written by a modestly compensated professional staff critic. In this time, the touring virtuoso is a revered figure in the interpretation of so-called "classical"  music. And the conductor, propped up by the determined efforts of a hugely profitable vinyl-based classical music industry, is still king. That's the heady era that was revisited in Tuesday's Carnegie Hall concert with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the Vienna Philharmonic in the first of their two performances together this week.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Concert Review: A League of Their Own

The Vienna Philharmonic return to Carnegie Hall. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Fischer king: Adam Fischer leads the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 Carnegie Hall.
The first thing you notice is the sound.

It starts in the strings, warm, rich and wine-dark. The tone of the instruments is a little deeper and fuller than other ensembles. Then the horns, the Viennese horn in F that is narrower in bore and harder to play and keep in tune, with an antique valve design that allows for easier legato playing. The oboes are different, shorter and wider than the French instruments played by most professionals. Finally, there's the kettledrums: there are just two. They are small by modern standards, beaten copper bowls with goatskin heads. They have a pert voice of their own.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Das Rheingold

The Ring begins. (Do I really need to embellish more?)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wotan and Loge take the "Machine" express down to Nibelheim in a
key scene from Das Rheingold. Photo © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Gods, dwarves, mermaids and giants on an enormous pinning mechanical stage set. What's not to love about the opening opera of Wagner's Ring?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Concert Review: The Departed

The Orchestra of St. Luke's exercises its labor rights.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Where's the orchestra? Conductor Bernard Labadie stands alone.
Photo © 2019 Orchestra of St. Luke's

When an orchestra brings in a new music director, there is always a shift in terms of programming and focus. Consider if you will the Orchestra of St. Luke's that outstanding and flexible ensemble that gives regular concerts at Carnegie Hall, and its new boss Bernard Labadie. On Thursday night, the Orchestra played a program of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, celebrating the virtue of all things right, proper and classically structured.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Opera Review: An Old Cuckold (with Horns on His Head)

Ambrogio Maestri returns as the Met's Falstaff.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Va, vecchio John: Falstaff (Ambrogio Maestri) gives a lesson in personnel management to
Bardolfo (Keith Jameson) and Pistola (Richard Bernstein) in Verdi's Falstaff.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
"It's not going to be my favorite Verdi opera." This, from an attendee on the 1 train riding away from Lincoln Center after the Metropolitan Opera's Wednesday night performance of Falstaff, efficiently sums up the attitude of audiences toward the composer's final opera--and his only successful attempt at writing comedy. Falstaff is a masterwork, but one held in high regard not for its considerable qualities but for its place as Verdi's last musical utterance. On Wednesday night under the baton of Robert Carnes, the opera received a performance that just might change that gentleman's opinion.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Concert Review: Inspiration, Persperation and Adaptation

The Chamber Music Society offers a series of "farewell" works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Seven from twenty-three: the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
play Strauss' Metamorphosen. Photo by Tristan Cook for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Even the best music is often borrowed from somewhere else. Composers throughout history often draw their melodic inspiration from somewhere else, be it folk song, a medieval church mode or in some cases, other composers. It is always a moment of minor joy when one first hears a most memorable musical idea. Chagrin follows when one figures out the source material, or realizes where a thematic idea has been re-used.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Concert Review: Sssh, They'll Hear You

Composer Matthias Pintscher conducts the New York Philharmonic
The composer Matthias Pinscher did podium duty this week at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo from MatthiasPintscher.com
In the new era of administration at the New York Philharmonic, it is as yet unclear what priority is really being placed on the performance of new and contemporary classical music. However, modernity was a priority at last week's concerts, which saw the orchestra welcome composer Matthias Pintscher to the podium of David Geffen Hall. Mr. Pintscher has conducted these forces a few times in the past decade, leading concerts in the grand 360˚ experiment of 2012,  the first NY Phil Biennial and a memorable Das Lied von der Erde in the hectic week following Hurricane Sandy. However, these performances were his first regular subscription concerts.

Recordings Review: (Just Like) Starting Over

Sir Simon Rattle conducts Das Rheingold in Munich.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Ein gold'ner Ring ragt dir am Finger...."
Photo © 2015 Bildquelle/Picture Alliance DPA courtesy Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
It may seem silly, considering that this blog is in the middle of reviewing another recordig of Wagner's Ring, to jump back and take a look at a different conductor's approach to Das Rheingold the "preliminary evening" that is a heroic undertaking in its own right. Here though, that conductor is the always interesting Sir Simon Rattle, whose own discography is extensive though generally not dipping far into the Wagner repertory. (This is technically his fifth recording of Das Rheingold, but the first to be commercially available.) This is a live recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and released (in 2015) on the BRSO's own BR Klassik label.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Concert Review: He's Happiest On the Bench

Mikhail Pletnev returns with the Russian National Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mikhail Pletnev (at piano) with members of the Russian National Orchestra in 2017.
Photo courtesy the Russian National Orchestra © 2017.
When you're a world-class composer, conductor, arranger and concert pianist who is also the founder and artistic director of an important international orchestra, you can pretty much sit wherever you want. That's the home truth from Wednesday night's appearance at Lincoln Center by the Russian National Orchestra. For this concert, Mikhail Pletnev, who founded the orchestra in Moscow in 1990, chose the role of soloist, letting conductor Kirill Karabits make his New York podium debut.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Season Preview: 2019-2020 The Year of Not Living Dangerously

The Metropolitan Opera unveils next season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"...and that escalator to nowhere." Anthony Roth Costanzo climbs the stairs of destiny
in the Met's upcoming first presentation of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten.
Photo from the Los Angeles Opera used by permission of the Met press office © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera revealed its new schedule at 1pm today, confirming a lot of what was already known about next year.  The two remaining shows by Franco Zeffirelli (Turandot and La bohéme return. Also, this is the first time in years that the company is mounting revivals of operas by Tchaikovsky (The Queen of Spadesand Janacek (Kat'a Kabanova) alongside its usual French, Italian and German fare.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Opera Review: The Kingdom of Counterpane

Opera Philadelphia mounts A Midsummer Night's Dream.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Away, away, you are an ass." Oh whoops, that's the wrong play.
Matthew Rose (left) and Anna Christy in A Midsummer Night's Dream.Photo by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia. 
Like many excellent operas written in the mid 20th century, Benjamin Britten's excellent adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream has never quite penetrated into the conscience of opera goers who believe that the art form met its end with the death of Giacomo Puccini in 1926. So that made it imperative to jaunt down and catch one of Opera Philadelphia's last performances of the opera, mounted here in a handsome and well-travelled production by Robert Carsen. This show, like most of Opera Philadelphia's programming was at the Academy of Music, a lush and elegant space from a better managed time.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Concert Review: A Shift of the Spotlight

Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to Philadelphia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Photo © 2018 Philharmonia Orchestra. 
In recent seasons, Esa-Pekka Salonen has shifted his emphasis from conducting to his first love, composition. However, Friday’s matinee program at the Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall featured none of Mr. Salonen’s own catalogue. Rather, the composer led a program consisting of workers by Béla Bartók and Richard Strauss, two very different composers who are each in their own way, touchstones of the twentieth century.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Concert Review: The Baggage Handler

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Daniel Harding brought the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
in for a landing at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. Photo © 2017 The Lucerne Festival.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is the most famous musical export from the Netherlands. On Thursday night, the ensemble returned to Carnegie Hall for its first New York concerts since the ouster of conductor Daniele Gatti, who was released from his contract in August of 2018 following accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior. (Mr. Gatti is reportedly planning to sue.) His replacement for this North American tour is Daniel Harding, an Englishman who is not well known on American podiums, although he has worked at the Metropolitan Opera and led the New York Philharmonic in a memorable run of concerts in 2011.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Falstaff

Shakespeare's fat knight goes a-courtin' in Windsor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Va, vecchio Ambrogio! Ambrogio Maestri returns to the role of Falstaff at the Met.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The big fella is back. Ambrogio Maestri revives his acclaimed portrayal of Jack Falstaff in this welcome revival of the Robert Carsen  production.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Concert Review: Sweet and Sour Notes

Yuja Wang teams with Igudesman and Joo at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wrapture: Yuja Wang (center) is unboxed by Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-Ki Joo.
Photo © 2019 Igudesmanandjoo.com
Last night's performance at Zankel Hall teamed virtuoso pianist Yuja Wang with the comedy stylings of Iggudesman and Joo. The comic duo (full names Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo) rose to prominence through a series of YouTube videos. They seemed unlikely stage companions for the virtuoso pianist (this concert is part of her ongoing Perspectives series)  although this collaboration is not new. At the start of the concert, the duo announced that Yuja Wang would not be coming onstage. Rather, out came Mr. Joo in one of her signature outfits: minimal chest wrap, short skirt and entirely too much leg.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Concert Review: A Snapper-Up of Unconsidered Trifles

Daniil Trifonov takes Carnegie Hall (again.)
Daniil Trifonov and his remarkable hands.
Photo © 2019 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
The Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov returned to the stage of Carnegie Hall on Saturday night, bringing with him an arduous program of Beethoven, Schumann and Prokofiev. Mr. Trifonov is now 27. A familiar figure on New York's concert stages, he plays difficult repertory with concentration and effort and yet with a technique that makes even the toughest pieces look easy. Adding to the sense of occasion was a large brace of digital video cameras: this particular concert would be live streamed on medici.tv.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Concert Review: The All-Stars Chamber

Marc-André Hamelin joins the Juilliard String Quartet at the 92nd St. Y.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Juilliard String Quartet (right and left) were joined by Marc-André Hamelin (Center) on Friday night at the 92nd St. Y.
Photo interpolation by the author, who should really know better than to try things like this on deadline.

It's an incredible luxury to be able to do whatever the hell you want. On Friday night, pianist Marc-Andre Hámelin joined the Juilliard String Quartet for their appearance at the 92nd St. Y, adding himself to the second half of a concert program of chamber music. The Juilliard Quartet is just as storied (if not more so) than Mr. Hamelin, having existed in one form or another since its foundation by composer-critic Virgil Thomson in 1946.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Concert Review: Don't Damn Me

Jaap van Zweden leads Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Matthias Goerne (left) emotes as Jaap van Zweden (on podium) leads the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.

For the last year and a half, New York classical music lovers have cautiously watched as Jaap van Zweden settles into the hotseat at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.  This week, Mr. van Zweden delved into choral music with an enthusiasm that reminds one of the Kurt Masur years. His choice: Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, a masterpiece that is a stern test for any conductor no matter their age or experience.

Brahms wrote this work in the wake of personal tragedy, having lost his mother and later his mentor Robert Schumann. The work ignores the standard text of the Roman Catholic death mass in favor of a German text, assembled by the composer from the Lutheran Bible. Using a similar technique to Handel's Messiah, Brahms chose a contemplative approach that focuses more on the grief of the bereaved than the wrath of God and the begging of forgiveness.

From the first rising bars of the opening movement, Mr. van Zweden chose a steady, measured approach that paid increasing dividends as the work progresses. The steady pace showed his great control over both orchestra and choristers, and the sturdy, inevitable march toward the first serious choral forte recalled past choral glories at this hall. The Concert Chorale of New York responded with similar focus and discipline, allowing the conductor to sculpt smoothly rising arcs of sound in the air.

Musically, this work balances Brahms' chief influence Beethoven with a look back towards the choral tradition established in the age of Bach. The two musical styles were fused by Brahms into something new that he could call his own, thick, shifting pillars of orchestrating supporting arches of sound. This balance acquires weight and momentum with the slow crescendo of "Denn alles fleisch," the chorus that anchors the second movement. The chorus falls silent for a determined slow march that may have anticipated the third act of Wagner's Parsifal. Then the tempo increased and the brass burst forth in an explosion of sound, culminating in a triumphant climax.

The first solo is "Herr, lehre doch mich," sung by baritone Matthias Goerne. With his expressive voice and the control of a master of German art song, Mr. Goerne brought drama and mystery to Brahms' text. His involvement with the music being played was total, and he could even be seen mouthing words along with the chorus in moments where he is not required to sing.  He brought the same commitment to his two interpolations in the sixth movement, spinning lyric lines before giving way to the answering roar of the chorus and orchestra.

The fifth movement is the most controversial of this work, as it was added by Brahms to expand and embellish his original musical vision. Here, the soprano solo was sung by Ying Fang, the fast-rising Juilliard product who is having a spring of guaranteed career advancement. (She will sing Servilia in the Met's upcoming revival of La clemenza di Tito.) Ms. Fang offered up a soaring vocal line, carrying the text up to the heavens with a voice that has thickened, strengthened and matured.

Burnished brass and a soaring vocal line opened the optimistic finale, with Mr. van Zweden layering in sweet strings. The line was take up by the basses and tenors as the conductor was careful to preserve the antiphonal arrangement of the sections. The course of this movement worked upward, with the choristers following the orchestra on a steep climb toward the heavens. Descending string and woodwinds moved underneath the waves of choral sound, with the choristers delivering each line with the utmost clarity and intent. The work ended with one last great surge of singing, a prayer uplifted and that final, exquisite woodwind chorale.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Opera Review: The Play is Not the Thing

Opera Lafayette returns to New York with Radamisto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Married life: Zenobia (Hagar Sharvit) and Radamisto (Caitlin Hulcup) are on the run in Radamisto.
Photo by Louis Forget © 2019 Opera Lafayette.
The world of opera was very different in 1720. That's the first take-away from Radamisto, the Handel opera that made a rare stage appearance on Thursday night at the Kaye Playhouse. The performance was a visit from Opera Lafayette, the intrepid Washington D.C. company that specializes in reviving stage works from the 18th century. This was their first excursion into Handel, and it was generally a success.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Concert Review: Three (and more) of a Perfect Pair

Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang ignite at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang.
Photo by Benjamin Ealovega © 2014 Decca/Universal Music Group
One of the stern challenges faced in writing this blog is the concert that consists of "pure" music. That is, programs of abstract works that have no title other than "Sonata" or "Rhapsody", usually followed by a number indicating their place in the composer's catalogue. On Wednesday night, violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang teamed to bring such a program to life at Carnegie Hall. It was one of the most exciting concerts of this still new year.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Concert Review: The Revelations Will Not Be Televised

The Crypt Sessions presents Quatour pour la fin du temps.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stephen Jackiw, Orion Weiss, Jay Campbell and Yoonah Kim contemplate the End of Time.
Photo by Andrew Ousley © 2019 The Death of Classical

The Crypt Sessions has returned and its timing could not be better. Their season opener was Tuesday night, with a performance of Messiaen's Quatour pour la fin du temps, a work written and premiered in a German prisoner of war camp in the dark days of World War II. For the forty-nine lucky souls gathered in the depths of the Church of the Intercession, it was a transcendental experience.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

2019-20 Season Preview: Suffragette City

The New York Philharmonic celebrates the 19th Amendment with its new schedule.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This season, conductor Jaap van Sweden and the New York Philharmonic board the Hogwarts Express.
Original images © Warner Brothers Entertainment and Philharmonic photographer Chris Lee. 

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Last night the New York Philharmonic, in the person of President Deborah Borda and Music Director Jaap van Zweden unveiled its 2019-20 season, the second year to be forged from this new artistic partnership at Lincoln Center. The announcement was made (as with last year) in the sparkling Stanley H. Kaplan penthouse, in a relaxed, loungey atmosphere with strolling hors d'ouevres and a signature cocktail created for the occasion, the "Negentiende" ("Nineteenth" in Dutch, Mr. van Zweden's native tongue.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Concert Review: From the Inner Core to the Outer Atmosphere

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony turns The Planets Inside Out
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jupiter as photographed by the Juno satellite.
Photo © 2019 NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI/MSSS/XAKARUS ALLDREDGE
The InsideOut concert series, held by the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony under the aegis of music director David Bernard, affords audience members the chance to hear major symphonic and orchestral works from a very different perspective. Where most concert audiences sit and face the orchestra, at InsideOut, the listeners seated in blocks, alternating with the players and sections of the ensemble.

Concert Review: Journey Into Imagination

Jeremy Denk returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jeremy Denk and friends.
Photo © Nonesuch Records
Since making his New York recital debut in 1997, the pianist Jeremy Denk has led audiences on fearless explorations of some pretty dark corners of the standard repertory. On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Denk concluded his current American recital tour with a slate of concert fare by major composers that is, well, not obscure, but--let's say stuff that you don't hear programmed that often.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Fille du Régiment

Tenor Javier Camarena sails the (nine consecutive) high C's.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Iron Lady: Pretty Yende is Marie in La Fille du Regiment.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
It's a winter warmer! Pretty Yende and Javier Cammarena are the leads in this lovely bel canto comedy by Donizetti.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Opera Review: The Redemption of the Dissolute

The Met finally gets Don Giovanni right.
by Paul J. Pelkonen


In the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, a caddish weatherman is trapped in a small Pennsylvania town in midwinter. He is forced to relive the same events over and over until (as the trailer says) "he finally gets it right." A similar redemption came last night for the Metropolitan Opera's first Don Giovanni this season, presented in a 2012 staging by  Michael Grandage. This was the fifty-first performance of this well-worn show. Last night, it finally roared to comic life. The spark: four strong debuts, three on stage and one in the orchestra pit.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

2019-2020 Season Preview: Owed to Joy

Carnegie Hall announces a season-long celebration of all things Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Came back haunted: the spirit of Ludwig van Beethoven visits Carnegie Hall in the 2019-2020 season.
Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall, alteration by the author. 

The music of Ludwig van Beethoven, particularly the symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets, forms the central thrust of the 2019-2020 Carnegie Hall schedule. The schedule was unveiled today at the traditional yearly press conference at the historic venue. The emphasis on Beethoven is for calendar reasons: next year marks his sestercentennial or 250th birthday. (A more cynical blog than this might also add that Beethoven's music remains an evergreen source of tickets and subscriptions, but that's not something we'd ever say in print.)

Opera Review: Disenchantment

The Met revives its fairy tale twin bill of Tchaikovsky and Bartók.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Two sides of marriage. Left, Matthew Polenzani and Sonya Yoncheva in Iolanta. Right, Angela Denoke and Gerald
Finley as Mr. and Mrs. Bluebeard. Photos by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera. Collage by the author.
Part of the problem with short one-act operas is figuring out how to pair them off. On Monday night, the Met offered its second performance this season of a very unconventional double bill: Tchaikovsky's fairy tale Iolanta and Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. The first is an idealized boy-meets-girl story, originally written to be paired with The Nutcracker. The second is Bartók's only opera: a chilling portrait of married life gone very wrong. The production, which premiered in Warsaw, is the brain-child of director Mariusz Trelinski, and this performance marks its first revival since 2015.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Superconductor Interview: Cornelius Meister

The German conductor gets ready for his Met debut with Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The formation of damnation: Cornelius Meister gets ready for his Met debut with Don Giovanni.

The conductor Cornelius Meister is a fast-rising star in Europe. Having just finished a lengthy run at the helm of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, he is now the music director o the State Opera and the State Orchestra in the German city of Stuttgart.  On January 30, Mr. Meister will make his debut at the Met. His task: conducting one of Mozart's finest and darkest operas: the deliciously twisted Don Giovanni. This week, Superconductor found time to sit down with the maestro to talk all things dramma giocoso.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Concert Review: No Exits, No Escapes

The New York Philharmonic unveils Fire in my mouth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The premiere of Fire in my mouth with the Young People's Chorus of New York (left and right)
the singers of The Crossing (center) and the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Jaap van Zweden.
Photo © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
Although the efforts of the New York Philharmonic to commission and perform new works by contemporary composers are sometimes met with chagrin by its audience, new music remains one of the most important priorities for the orchestra. This weekend marked the first performances of Fire in my mouth, a new oratorio by Julia Wolfe.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Concert Review: Break Glass for Beethoven

Jonathan Biss steps in at Carnegie Hall.
A higher state of Biss: Jonathan Biss and friend.
Photo by David Bazemann.
The piano sonata was still a relatively new form when Beethoven published his first set in 1795. In the next twenty-seven years, the composer would revolutionalize the way composers wrote for the instrument, placing ever greater technical demands not just on the stamina of performers and audiences but on the instruments that were used to play them. Today's piano, the modern concert Steinway favored at Carnegie Hall is an engine of steel, not the wooden box that Beethoven and Liszt were forced to contend with and sometimes break with the ferocity of their attack.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Concert Review: The Young Magician's Guide to the Piano

Seong-Jin Cho plays Pictures at an Exhibition.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho returned to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night.
Photo by Harald Hartmann.
The pianist Seong-Jin Cho is a fast-rising star on the international virtuoso circuit. On Tuesday night, regular programming at Carnegie Hall resumed with Mr. Cho's second recital at that venue. He came to play, armed with a formidable program of works by Schubert, Debussy and Mussorgsky.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

At An Exhibition: The Burning Red

My visit to the works and world of Lucio Fontana.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
No way out: the claustrophobic, unsettling work of Lucio Fontana.
Photo taken at the Met Breuer by the author, who is still feeling the retinal effect.
Writing about the visual arts is not something that this blog is particularly known for. And yet, one of the perks of doing this blog is being able to accept an occasional invitation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to experience the opening of a new exhibit. This morning, your faithful correspondent put on two layers of clothes and sallied forth to see Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold, the new exhibit celebration work of the 20th century artist.

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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.