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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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Memorial for Paul J. Pelkonen

by Jessie Tannenbaum

"A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic." —Jean Sibelius

A memorial service for Paul J. Pelkonen will be held on Sunday, June 30, at 12:00pm at the Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, 4123 Fourth Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11232. All who loved Paul are welcome. Please, no flowers.

Paul loved small, local opera companies, in particular the Regina Opera Company, based in his neighborhood of Sunset Park. We encourage you to honor Paul's commitment to "critical thinking in the cheap seats" with a donation to Regina Opera Company. Please donate via Paypal (please put "In memory of Paul J. Pelkonen" in the special instructions field) or by check to Regina Opera Company, PO Box 150253, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (please put "In memory of Paul J. Pelkonen" in the memo line). You can visit the Regina Opera Company website for more information about donating.

Thank you to all who have sent kind words and condolences to Emily and to Paul's family and friends. While we have not been able to respond to every message, card, email, and social media comment, your words are deeply appreciated and have brought comfort in this difficult time.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

In Memoriam: Paul J. Pelkonen

by Jessie Tannenbaum

Paul J. Pelkonen
April 12, 1973 – June 12, 2019

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paul Pelkonen died suddenly yesterday of cardiopulmonary arrest, at his home in Brooklyn. Paul lived a life full of joy, and dedicated his life to sharing with others the joy he found in music. We hope that Superconductor brought joy to everyone who reads this.  

Paul and Emily at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Dec. 23, 2018

A lifelong Brooklynite, Paul was a proud alumnus of Stuyvesant High School, Fordham University, and the journalism school at Boston University. The only things he loved more than music were his partner of 14 years, Emily Ravich; their niece Lilo and nephew Bobby; his chosen family and extended family; and his beloved borough of Brooklyn and city of New York. Paul was loved by many and will be deeply missed.

Memorial information will be forthcoming.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Opera Review: No Escape, No Parole

The Philharmonic unlocks David Lang's prisoner of the state.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The climactic confrontation of David Lang's prisoner of the state.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic,
The New York Philharmonic ended its Lincoln Center season this week with prisoner of the state, a new opera from the pen of contemporary composer David Lang. Mr. Lang, whose unconventional list of stage works include battle hymns (set deep within the bowels of the U.S.S. Intrepid and an opera created entirely from whispers, seemed like an ideal choice for this endeavor. This new opera, co-commissioned with ensembles in five other cities, is an ambitious re-telling of Beethoven's Fidelio. However, unlike many of Mr. Lang's stage works, this production, mounted on a specially built stage in David Geffen Hall, proved itself a serious misfire.

It should have worked. prisoner (the lower case is a Lang trademark) follows the plot of Beethoven's lone opera, a work that composer revised many times until achieving its final form. The story is simple: a wife with a husband in the hoosegow shears off her hair, dresses as a man and helps rescue him from certain death. This new libretto strips out Beethoven's awkward attempts at domestic opera-comedy. It also relieves the characters of their names. Finally Mr. Lang chose a dark "twist" ending worthy of middle-season Game of Thrones. (We'll get to that in the last paragraph.)

Mr. Lang is a fearless, ground-breaking composer, but his choices offer little relief to the listener over 70 minutes, especially if Beethoven's opera is familiar to the listener. This new score is percussive and repetitive, with blasts of bass drum and stark minimalist harmonies. The choral writing is skilled and the male members of the Concert Chorale of New York were on point. These fellas were confined to the acoustically dodgy back line of this house crowded together on a high walkway above the stage. Even in their singing, the optimism of Beethoven has been replaced with something much more astringent.

At Saturday night's performance (the final one of this short run) the strong cast did their best with this stuff. Coloratura soprano Julie Mathevet was a feisty and welcome presence as the Assistant, this opera's light-voiced substitute for Beethoven's dramatic heroine. She sings with alacrity and energy but was not allowed in the tight time frame to develop much as an interesting character. Eric Owens was in excellent voice Saturday night, and his dark heavy portrayal of the Jailer reminded viewers that people who work in corrections are locked up along with their charges every day. He was flanked by a chorus of four menacing guards, stacking the odds.

As the Prisoner himself, baritone Jarrett Ott had to sing his first lines, Salome like from a specially built well beneath the acting surface. He did a decent job of appearing tired and emaciated but his warm tone and burly presence were at clear odds with the character's plight. As The Governor, the opera's villain, tenor Alan Oke gleefully chewed scenery and sang with piercing force into an obvious head mic. He was draped in a purple greatcoat uniform that made him look as if the Joker had gotten a job as a hotel doorman.

The show looked great (the design is by Matt Saunders)  aside from the lighting designer's (Theatermachine) occasional decision to shine high-powered theater pieces right into the eyes of the audience. The orchestra was divided in two, to make a lane for the actors. The chorus, in chrome shackles and sodium-yellow jumpsuits (they looked like the "Kiln" prison outfits in Guardians of the Galaxy) looked appropriately oppressed. Their population was swollen with black and white film of more prisoners, suggesting a vast correctional facility with a large and seething population, ready to burst into riot at any moment.

At the climax of the work, the Assistant reveals herself and draws a gun just as the Governor is going to murder her husband. The trumpets sound offstage. The inspectors have arrived. And then the bad guy calmly takes the Assistant's gun away, delicately slipping it into the pocket of his purple greatcoat. All the characters, the now-uncuffed Prisoner included, sing at the audience about how all of us in the world are in shackles, it's just that some of them are more visible than others. This ending, (or lack of one) may reflect the problems of a world that uses private incarceration, torture and hidden "black prisons" to make its population feel safe and secure. In this "Shawshank," there was no redemption for anyone.

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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Concert Review: The Follies of Youth

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Beatrice Rana onstage at Carnegie Hall with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the background.
Photo by Paul Vincent. 
Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall on Friday night for the last of their appearances this season. For this program, Mr. Nézet-Séguin chose a pair of mostly forgotten and badly neglected early works by prominent Russian composers Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff. These Russian rarities flanked the more familiar Third Piano Concerto by Serge Prokofiev with soloist Beatrice Rana.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Concert Review: Take Me to Church

Bernard Labadie unveils his visionary OSL Bach Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bernard Labadie (right) leads the new Orchestra of St. Luke's Bach Festival.
Photo by Dario Acosta.
"Tonight, we are in church." These words were spoken by Orchestra of St. Luke's president James Roe as he introduced Thursday night's program, Music of the Spirit, at Zankel Hall, the subterranean mid-sized venue that is part of the Carnegie Hall building. Bach was a man of deep religious conviction but the bulk of his church music, (aside from the major choral works like the Passions and the Mass in B minor) remains unknown to the casual listener. With this concert, the first night of a new month-long Bach festival by the Orchestra, the goal is to correct that oversight.


The Met tones down La Damnation de Faust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susan Graham (left) and Marcello Giordani (right) in a tender moment from
the Met's 2008 staging of La Damnation de Faust. Photo by Ken Howard © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera.
If you were planning  on seeing the Metropolitan Opera's unique and visually mind-blowing production of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust next season, you are out of luck. In an e-mail sent to subscribers (and obtained by Superconductor) the Met has announced that the company's presentations of the hybrid opera-oratorio will not be seen in its staging as originally envisioned by director Robert Lepage. The remainder will be mounted as concert performances in the vast opera house. Also, there will be just four shows, as three of the performances are cancelled.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Opera Review: The Queen of Underland

Dido and Aeneas are laid in earth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The nocturnal court of Carthage: Dido (Danela Mack) flanked by her handmaidens.
Photo by Kevin Condon for The Death of Classical.
When it comes to performing operas in innovative locations, it is hard to beat the catacombs deep within Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Last night, before a packed house, The Angels' Share offered the premiere of its season-opening staging of Dido and Aeneas. Written by Henry Purcell in 1688, this is the oldest English-language opera to have a place in the repertory.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Concert Review: The Ignition Sequence

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

There comes a time in the career of an opera singer where, through either good fortune or exceptional skill, they rise from the ranks of the roster and ignite as a genuine operatic star. For the  Isabel Leonard, 2018-19 at the Metropolitan Opera was that year, where the mezzo-soprano rose to the occasion in three major roles: Marnie, Melisande and Sister Blanche in Dialogues des Carmelites. On Monday night, Ms. Leonard capped a season which featured performances as Marnie, Melisande and Sister Blanche with a performance at Carnegie Hall, accompanied by the MET Orchestra under music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Opera Review: They Could Be Royals

Amore Opera throws Verdi's Masked Ball.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

A throne of games: Tenor José Heredia (center, prone) dies at the end of Un ballo in Maschera/
hoto by Ashley Becker © 2019 Amore Opera.
The Amore Opera ended its tenth season on Sunday afternoon with a performance of Un Ballo in Maschera. Of Verdi's mature operas, Ballo is unique. It is closer to French comic opera in style than anything else the composer wrote, even if it follows the musical conventions of Italian opera with only a sprinkling of French flavor in its score. The text is in Italian, and the musical style is late Verdi, with an almost-Wagnerian use of repeated themes attached to its characters. Although it has a tragic ending, there is am airy lightness to the music and the stage action, which frames a simple love triangle against a wrenching political assassination.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Concert Review: The Harrowing

The New York Philharmonic revives John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Composer John Cortigiano: his Symphony No. 1 was played at the New York Philharmonic
for the first time in 27 years. Photo © Sony Classical.
The New York Philharmonic is in the middle round of “Music of Conscience,” a season-ending three-week festival celebrating works written with the purpose of correcting great social injustices. This week featured the very necessary return of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, subtitled Of Rage and Remembrance. Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and last heard at the Philharmonic in 1992, this is a a powerful three-movement cenotaph in sound, dedicated to the memory of the thousands of Americans cut down by the AIDS crisis and the government’s cruel indifference.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Recordings Review: The World's Strongest Man

Marek Janowski's second take on Siegfried.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What mutters most: Stephen Gould in Siegfried.
Photo by Michael Pöhl © Vienna State Opera.
Starting in 1958, the Decca engineer John Culshaw and his team of technicians took six years to record all four parts of Wagner's Ring cycle in a converted ball room in Vienna. By contrast the conductor Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra moved on to Siegfried, the third part of the cycle with astonishing speed. This recording was made in March of 2013, just five months after the same forces made their Die Walküre. Its release as the penultimate chapter in both the Ring and the conductor's survey of the ten Wagner operas is a marvel of efficiency, as is the label's decision to lower costs by squeezing the opera onto three discs. As before, Mr. Janowski made a live recording (on March 1, 2013) in the Berlin Philharmonie, the storied and pentagonal hall that is home to the Berlin Philharmonic.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Recordings Review: Dark Wings, Dark Words

Marek Janowski's Berlin Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Fraternization: Melanie Diener and Robert Dean Smith in Die Walküre.
Photo © PentaTone Recordings, courtesy Naxos Classics.

This Die Walküre was recorded in one day (November 24, 2012) at the Berlin Philharmonie. The second part of Marek Janowski's second complete Ring Cycle, it is a searing, exciting performance that has all the benefits of a live recording, within controlled conditions that are similar to the studio environment. The sound is sweeping and crystal clear, swooping through the stereo sound-picture like a host of warrior maidens on flying horseback.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Recordings Review: Meet the New Gods

Marek Janowski records his second Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Second time around: Marek Janowski conducted his second recording of the Ring 
in Berlin. Photo by Felix Bored for PentaTone.
(Note: This is an updated version of a 2013 Superconductor review, republished in advance of coming reviews of the rest of the cycle in the next week.)

Any recording of Das Rheingold, the "preliminary evening" to Wagner's mighty tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen must, in the course of review be compared to the classic Decca recording made in 1958 with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. So let's do that first. No, this new recording from Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra  (released in 2013 on the PentaTone label) doesn't have much similarity to the Solti. Nor is it the "new standard", "the best" or even the "best-sounding" recording of this four-scene prelude to the main action of the Ring. However, as a document capturing some interesting young artists and a snapshot of the current state of international Wagner singing, it certainly has value.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Concert Review: Music of (Easy) Conscience

The New York Philharmonic opens a three-week festival to end its season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jaap van Zweden leading the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic is in the endgame of its spring 2019 season, the orchestra's first with Jaap van Zweden as its music director. That endgame is a three week festival dedicated to "music of conscience". This loose aggregation covers symphonies and a new opera by David Lang in the coming weeks, with the connection between works being the creation of music at times of great social and political storm and stress. On Tuesday night, Mr. van Zweden led the last concert of the first program of the festival pairing pieces by Beethoven and Shostakovich. Though these two men lived in very different times and political climates, each work had the benefit of being readily familiar to even the most conservative members of the audience.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh yeah) Classical Music

Burgers, Bourbon and Beethoven opens the summer festival season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Outdoor hors d'oeuvre: a string trio plays Mozart in Green-Wood Cemetery.
The summer classical music season got off to its official start this weekend in the most unlikely of locations. On Saturday night, The Death of Classical, an organization dedicated to performing great music works in the realms of the dead, launched the second season of its Angel's Share series in Green-Wood Cemetery. That sprawling Brooklyn necropolis was the site for Burgers, Bourbon and Beethoven: part cookout, part whisky tasting and part concert. The event was the three-headed brainchild of Andrew Ousley, concert promoter, music publicist and man about town. (He also founded The Death of Classical which puts on The Crypt Sessions in Harlem as well as The Angel's Share.)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Concert Review: Two Tickets, No Paradise

Gianandrea Noseda conducts at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gianandrea Noseda. Photo © 2017 Fondazione Teatro Regio di Torino.
The Carnegie Hall calendar is released every year in the final week of January, but not everything on that august and immense document comes to fruition. The concert originally planned for this Sunday would have featured Gianandrea Noseda conducting Verdi’s grand opera  I Vespri Siciliani in its five-act entirety with the Teatro Regio di Torino. Its substitute: a two part choral concert with Mr. Noseda leading the National Symphony Orchestra, who are based in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Concert Review: Slip-Slidin' Away

Valery Gergiev and Daniil Trifonov return to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
And carry a small stick: Valery Gergiev.
Photo © 2017 Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
Six years and some months ago, the pianist Daniil Trifonov made his debut at Carnegie Hall. On Saturday night, Mr. Trifonov re-teamed with Valery Gergiev, now at the helm of the MET Orchestra. Mr. Gergiev spent many years as a principal guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, and one assumes that the players remain familiar with his eccentric conducting style. This was the first of three scheduled spring concerts by New York's greatest opera orchestra, an annual tradition at this venue following the end of the opera season.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Opera Review: Her Dark Materials

On Site Opera presents Murasaki's Moon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Another bad creation Genji (Martin Bakari) and his maker, the Lady Murasaki (Kristen Choi.)
Photo by Stephanie Berger for On Side Opera © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On Site Opera, Eric Einhorn's company that mounts interesting operas in extraordinary places. This week, the company presented the world premiere of Murasaki's Moon, commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and mounted in that august institution's Astor Court, a Chinese-themed meditative space hidden in the northeast corner of the second floor of the museum's main building. (If you want to visit, it's Galleries 217 and 218.) This writer attended the first of two performances on Saturday, the third of a six show run that wrapped Sunday afternoon.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Concert Review: The Messiah Complex

Evgeny Kissin returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The chosen one, at the controls. Evgeny Kissing at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Steve J. Sherman.
"Oh my God," the woman said. "He's amazing! He's like the Chosen One!"

Everybody loves a good salvation story, which might be why the above was said about Evgeny Kissin at intermission (right next to my seat) at last night's Carnegie Hall concert.. The storied Russian pianist made his yearly visit to the historic venue with an intelligently constructed program, dovetailing neatly between the development of music for his instrument in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the recital was sold out, Carnegie Hall added seating on the Perelman Stage, both behind and to the left of the artist as he played.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Opera Review: Burn This

Regina Opera roars back with Il Trovatore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Manrico, the troubador,  Christopher Trapani (above) finds Leonora (Alexis Cregger, below) who has taken poison rather than marry the Count DiLuna. Photo by Stephen Pisano for Regina Opera.
When putting on Verdi's Il Trovatore, it is very difficult to get the balance right.  On Saturday afternoon at the first of four performances, Brooklyn's Regina Opera company struck the correct balance between dramatic energy and vocal heroics, in a performance that proves that young voices do indeed grow in the heart of Brooklyn. This was the final production of the current Regina season (their 48th) in a detailed staging by Linda Lehr that pleased traditionalists while sacrificing none of the opera's dramatic edge.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

We've Got a Horse Right Here: The 2018-19 Metropolitan Opera Season

Perqs, re-creations and the Metropolitan Opera season that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes, this is a parody of Parks & Recreation starring (l.-r.) Javier Cammarena, Federica Lombardi
Stefan Vinke, Anna Netrebko, Kyle Ketelsen, Christine Goerge, Ambrogio Maestri and Greer Grimsley.
Original image © NBC, opera singers © The Metropolitan Opera, photoshop by the author.
Another Metropolitan Opera season is in the books, and the hard-working singers, actors, dancers, musicians, stagehands and army of support that makes up America's largest opera company is on their way to Pawnee, Indiana for some much deserved recreation at America's biggest Harvest Festival. So this year, let's call the awards the "Little Sebastians" and celebrate by awarding tiny statues of small horses, so small that you can't even see them on the Internet.

Or something.

Anyway, Here's the awards for the Met season-that-was.

Presenting: the Little Sebastians!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Opera Review: Don't Lose Your Head

New Amsterdam Opera performs Massenet's Hérodiade.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The concert performance of Hérodiade (with mezzo Janara Kellerman in blue
in the title role) by New Amsterdam Opera on Friday night. Photo by the author.
Jules Massenet's 1881 opera Hérodiade return to the stage in New York on Friday night after an absence of 26 years. The work was staged in a concert version by the New Amsterdam Opera, Keith Chambers' small but ambitious project that offers concert performances of repertory that terrifies some larger companies. Here, Mr. Chambers and his forces were in the Center at West Park, a landmarked Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side in the middle of a lengthy restoration project. The performance was umbrella'd under the ongoing New York Opera Fest, a two month coalition of smaller opera companies in and around New York.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Opera Review: Keep it in the Family

The Little Opera of New York premieres Owen Wingrave.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A man alone: Robert Balonek in the title role of Owen Wingrave.
Photo by Tina Buckman © Little Opera Theatre of New York.
Not every opera is made for the stage.

In 1971, Benjamin Britten's penultimate opera Owen Wingrave was premiered on the BBC. It was a new idea, writing operas for television, and one that was not exactly the wave of the future. Owen was seen onstage in 1973 and has enjoyed occasional revivals since. On Thursday night, as part of the ongoing New York Opera Festival, the Little Opera Theatre of New York staged the first live-action performance of the opera. The performance was at the GK Theater, tucked at the watery end of Jay Street in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge.

Concert Review: Faith Without Pause

Bernard Labadie leads Bach's Mass in B minor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bernard Labadie leads Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Quebec
in Bach's Mass in B minor. Photo by Melanie Burford.
Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor is more than church music. It is a towering setting of the Catholic liturgy that while never performed in full in the composer's lifetime, can elevate the listener no matter what faith they profess. Its glories were on full display in Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night. The performance (mounted without an intermission) was by the period ensemble Les Violins du Roy and La Chapelle de Quebec under the leadership of their founder Bernard Labadie.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Concert Review: The Fearless Academic

Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mitsuko Uchida and friend. Photo by Geoffrey Scheid.
There is nothing conventional about Mitsuko Uchida. At this stage in her career, the reigning grand dame of the piano recital has eschewed the traditional recital format for long concerts that are meditative studies on the work of just one composer. Luckily for Carnegie Hall audiences  this season, that composer is Franz Peter Schubert, whose work she is revisiting at the conclusion of a two year journey through his piano sonatas.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Concert Review: Mister Lovejoy

David Robertson brings the Turangalîla-Symphonie to Juilliard.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
David Robertson leads the Juilliard Orchestra. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

It is one of the seminal symphonic works of the 20th century but  Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie has always struggled to find its audience. Of massive length and requiring an army of skilled musicians, this hybrid of symphony and concerto has in the past cleared halls of would-be listeners or been avoided by concert subscribers altogether. On Friday night conductor David Robertson led the expanded forces of the Juilliard Orchestra in this huge ten-movement work. Despite the technical difficulty of music this was a performance brimming with love, joy and the enthusiasm of an orchestra come priced entirely of conservatory students.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Concert Review: Yankees vs. Twins

The Labèque twins return to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just don't ask us which is which: the piano playing sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.
They walked out onstage together, each in sleek, close-fitting leather pants. One wore a nipped white jacket and a black blouse. The other wore the reverse colors. Each took a seat opposite the other at the two twin Steinway pianos that sat, spooned together on the stage of David Geffen Hall. This week the New York Philharmonic welcomed back Katia and Marielle Labèque, the twin virtuoso pianists who always play together.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Concert Review: A Party of One

Michael Tilson Thomas has a big night at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Michael Tilson Thomas elbows a score. Photo by Art Streiber.
The classical music world is a place where absolute power can rest in the hands (or the pen) of a single individual. On Thursday night at Zankel Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas (who is one of those individuals who is allowed such a privilege) was allowed an exercise in that kind of power. The composer, conductor and educator hosted this concert featuring pianist Yuja Wang and members of his Miami-based training orchestra the New World Symphony. He led the orchestral performances in its first and second half. And he wrote a good deal of the music performed.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Concert Review: Return to Fun City

Michael Tilson Thomas comes back to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
MTT: Michael Tilson Thomas on the podium.
Photo courtesy the San Francisco Symphony.
The composer, conductor and educator Michael Tilson Thomas returned to Carnegie Hall last night for the first of two concerts that will end his Perspectives series, the year-long residency that started on opening night of this season in October of 2018. These performances feature the New World Symphony, the Miami-based training orchestra that he helped found in 1987. Although its members are transient--graduate students mostly en route to full time orchestra positions in the fullness of time, MTT's players are professional quality. They proved it last night.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Opera Review: Just a Small Town Girl

Emmeline takes off at Manhattan School of Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Living in her lonely world: Blair Cagney as Emmeline.
Photo by Carol Rosegg for the Manhattan School of Music.
Composer Tobias Picker returned to his alma mater,  the Manhattan School of Music last week bringing a new staging of his first opera, Emmeline. A searing re-telling of the Oedipus myth among the hardscrabble folks of a small New England town, this opera helped put the Santa Fe Opera Festival on the map. Here, the work received a new staging from director Thaddeus Strassberger, and an update to the libretto to better reflect the troubled 21st century. Touches like home shopping channel footage and even texting (used brilliantly in the projected titles at one point made the whole show a reflection on the current screwed-up state of affairs in this country.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc's dark opera combines religion, politics and history to devastating effect.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isabel Leonard is Sister Blanche de la Force in Dialogues des Carmélites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera. 
The Met ends its season with this grim and brilliant 20th century opera, in its justifiably famous staging by John Dexter. Three performances only.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Concert Review: The Bigger Bang Theory

The New York Philharmonic premieres Thomas Larcher's Kenotaph.
A bigger bang: Semyon Bychkov, on podium leads the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
In his Symphony No. 2, "Kenotaph", the Austrian composer Thomas Larcher employs a bewildering variety of percussion instruments. Ranging from conventional drums to items found in kitchens and garages, this battery serves as the harsh and unyielding reminder of the cruelty and misery running rampant on our globe in this still-young century. On Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic, this young work was paired with a symphony of great intellectual rigor, the Fourth by Johannes Brahms. This was the second of four scheduled performances this week at David Geffen Hall.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Opera Review: He Sleeps With the Fishes (and Everyone Else)

The Juilliard Opera mounts Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Take my wife, please. Masetto (Gregory Feldman, right) looks on as the Don (Hubert Zapiór)
woos Zerlina (Jessica Niles) in a scene from Act I of Don Giovanni.
Photo by Richard Termine.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music is timeless. But are the ribald, sexist opera libretti of Lorenzo da Ponte still workable on the stage in this era of #metoo? That is the question asked by the Juilliard Opera and director Emma Griffin. Her new staging of Don Giovanni bowed Wednesday night at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. In its two acts, Ms. Griffin sought to turn this opera, the story of a rabid sexual predator at play in the streets of Seville, Spain on its head and deliver a message about today's sexual ethics.

She partly succeeded.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Festival Preview: New York Opera Festival 2019

The multi-borough opera festival is back, and bigger and better than ever.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We will be swiping our way to the opera next month as the multi-borough
New York Opera Festival kicks into high gear.
This current opera season is in its endgame but that doesn't mean we're done yet. Starting Saturday, the New York Opera Festival  launches for its fourth year. featuring performances all around the city of familiar operas, oratorios, chamber operas and new contemporary works focusing on women's and LGBT issues. This exciting slat is bewildering to behold but Superconductor is here to walk you through it even though we're not going to plan your schedule for you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Concert Review: A Night Out With Your Old Boss

Pablo Heras-Casado returns to the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pablo Heras-Casado (standing) seen here leading the Orchestra of St. Luke's
returned to Carnegie Hall last Thursday night. Photo by Ferrando Sancho from the conductor's website. 
The tenure of Pablo Heras-Casado, for the first seven years of this decade at the helm of the Orchestra of St. Luke's was, by and large a positive one. It boosted the reputation of this excellent New York orchestra and gave the young conductor a chance to be heard on the biggest stages of New York. On Thursday night, Mr. Heras-Casado returned to the podium at Carnegie Hall to conduct the OSL in a program that looked forward and back, embracing the best of 20th century neo-classicism and continuing the ensemble's ongoing deep dive into the major works of Franz Joseph Haydn.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Götterdämmerung

The Ring comes to a curiously old-fashioned conclusion.
The three Norns (Elizabeth Bishop, Ronnita Miller, and Wendy Bryn Harmer) weave the rope of
destiny as the Machine "looms" above. Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The last and longest chapter of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdammerung (”The Twilight of the Gods”) also had the longest gestation period. (Wagner wrote this libretto first, but the music was the last part of the project to be completed.) This opera demands commitment, even from the most fervent Wagnerian. A performance is six hours with intermissions but it goes by with the speed of a bullet train.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Opera Review: The Empire Doesn't Strike Back

The Metropolitan Opera brings back Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conspirators: Vitellia (Elza van den Heever) and Sesto (Joyce DiDonato)
plot as Publio (Christian Van Horn) looks on in a scene from La Clemenza di Tito.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
In past seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, revivals of the company's 1984 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito were often done out of a sense of obligation to the composer's reputation. However, this spring run, under the baton of new broom conductor Lothar Koenigs,  has been particularly inspired. On Tuesday night, in the penultimate performance of this opera this season, the cast, featuring soprano Elza van den Heever and mezzo Joyce DiDonato made the case for this work being one of the composer's strongest efforts.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Concert Review: Dark Wood and Silver Linings

The London Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Lincoln Center.
The violinist James Ehnes was the featured soloist on Monday night with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Photo by Benjamin Eolovega courtesy Lincoln Center.
One of the foibles in covering orchestra concerts in New York City is differentiating the five permanent orchestras based in London, England. It is necessary to keep these bands straight from one another in one's own mind, especially since most of them are regularly rotated visitors on the big stage of Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall.  This week it was the turn of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, not to be confused with the London Symohony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra or the others. Their appearance was part of this spring's Great Performers at Lincoln Center schedule.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Opera Review: Zapped!

Handel’s shocking Semele strikes Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lightning rod: Brenda Rae as Semele at Carnegie Hall
Photo by Steve J. Sherman for Carnegie Hall.
One does not always think of Georg Friedrich Handel as a paragon of musical experimentation. On Sunday afternoon, the English Concert, (which is in the middle of presenting an annual cycle of Handel masterpieces at Carnegie Hall) struck down that thesis. This year’s entry is Semele, a hybridization of opera and oratorio. Unusual in that it uses the oratorio formula and an English text (by the poet William Congreve) to tell a mythological tale, Semele flopped in 1744. Today, this work is regarded as one of the composer’s boldest and most impressive achievements. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Opera Review: The Boy Nobody Wanted

As Siegfried, Stefan Vinke triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anvil, no chorus: Stefan Vinke makes his debut in Wagner's Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
For even the most dedicated Wagnerian, Siegfried is a challenge. The third chapter of the Ring is almost never performed as a stand-alone work, but only in the context of the other three operas. It is too often treated as an obligation by both performers and audiences. Siegfried is often the easiest Ring opera to get a ticket for, and is viewed as a long (but necessary) bridge between the glories of Die Walküre and the drama of Götterdämmerung. However, Saturday's season premiere of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera showed what a great and underrated opera this is.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Concert Review: Murder, Mayhem and Major Key Transitions

Dream Theater returns to Metropolis at the Beacon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater: (l.-r. Jordan Rudess, Mike Mangini (on drums) John Myung,
James LaBrie, John Petrucci) returned to the Beacon Theater on Friday night. Photo by the author.
(This review is respectfully dedicated to my friend and colleague Peter Danish, who got us the tickets. Thanks again, man.)

The progressive rock band Dream Theater has enjoyed its long existence by following two rules: doing what they want to do as musicians and ignoring sniffing rock critics. (Critics have responded to this indifference by pretty much ignoring the band: their reputation rests on word of mouth.) Since I'm a classical music critic, I went to see them (for the sixteenth time since 1993) at the Beacon Theater on a night when the band was celebrating its return to its hometown of New York and I was celebrating my forty-sixth spin around the sun.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Concert Review: A Very Unexpected Journey

Simone Young leads the New York Philharmonic in the Mahler Sixth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Big Bang: Daniel Druckman swings the hammer at the climax of the Mahler Sixth.
Photo by Caitlin Ochs © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
Nobody expected that this would be the week that Simone Young would make her long-awaited return to the New York Philharmonic. The Australian conductor, acclaimed for her work with the Hamburg Philharmonic, had not taken the podium at David Geffen Hall in twenty-one years. (However. she is on the schedule for next season, leading Elgar and Strauss.)  Ms. Young is no stranger to New York audiences, but most of her conducting engagements in this city have been at the Metropolitan Opera, and this is her first appearance with the orchestra since her debut in 1998.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Concert Review: A Stream of Knots and Crosses

Andrew Rudin celebrates his 80th birthday at Bargemusic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andew Rudin with the Moog synthesizer and at his current workstation.
The composer turned 80 last night and celebrated with a birthday concert at Bargemusic.
The composer Andrew Rudin celebrated his birthday on Thursday night, with an intimate concert of his  works at Bargemusic. Mr. Rudin, a pioneer in who wrote the first large-scale work for the Moog synthesizer, is now 80 years old. The program focused exclusively on piano and chamber works for acoustic instruments.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Concert Review: Symphonies Built for Two

Yuja Wang and Gautier Capuçon at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre Capuçon and Yuja Wang came together to play at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo from Medici.TV.
When one thinks of the great composers of the late Romantic era, the mind turns to massive string sections, full-throated choirs of brass and a kettle-drummer thundering out the rhythms of the cosmos. None of these things were present at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, when pianist Yuja Wang gave a concert featuring herself paired with cellist Gautier Capuçon. This is one of several concerts Ms. Wang has given this year as part of her Perspectives residency at the venue, with varying degrees of artistic success. This proved to be a collaboration that bore the most succulent of fruit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Recordings Review: Shiver Me Timbers

A Guide to The Flying Dutchman on disc.
The Flying Dutchman prepares to battle the Silver Surfer.
Art by Jack Kirby from Silver Surfer Vol. 1 No. 8, © 1969 Marvel Comics

Wagner's first "hit" opera, Der Fliegende Höllander captures the imagination from its salt-soaked opening bars. A lot of conductors have committed the Dutchman to disc. Some of them opt for the harp-drenched "happy ending" version. Some break the score into three acts instead of playing it straight through with no intermission. Here's a quick buyer's guide for getting your own coal-black ship with ghostly, blood-red sails....

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Heavy Hammer of Fate

At the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden is on the disabled list.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the New York Philharmonic brace for impact as Daniel Druckman
(with hammer) delivers the death blow during the Mahler Sixth. Photo by Chris Lee.
With the force of a gigantic hammer, a serious blow hit landed on the New York Philharmonic this week. The orchestra is playing Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in three concerts this week. The Sixth is Mahler's most pessimistic symphony, climaxing in its fourth movement with a series of enormous blows delivered by a wooden hammer. However, this week Philharmonic music director Jaap van Zweden was the one to get the bad news.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Concert Review: Darkness, Light and Opera

The Budapest Festival Orchestra returns to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Iván Fischer has led the Budapest Festival Orchestra since founding it in 1983.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The stately arches of Carnegie Hall are often witness to the most solemn of musical occasions. There is something ritualistic about the white plaster walls, the gold filigree and the elaborate columns evoking the sense of occasion. This weekend however, two concerts by the Budapest Festival Orchestra were among the most enjoyable and raucous at that storied venue. The music at each was that of Béla Bartók, Hungary's greatest composer of the 20th century.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Concert Review: Time Standing Still

efim Bronfman returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yefim Bronfman, shown here in performance at the 92nd St Y,
returned to Carnegie Hall this week. Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
One of the pleasurable difficulties in covering so-called “classical” music concerts is encountering an artist for whom the word “criticism should not be too stringently applied. Such an artist is the pianist Yefim Bronfman, who returned to Carnegie Hall on Thursday night for a solo recital of Debussy, Schumann and Schumann. All the works chosen were executed at a very high level indeed.

Well, that was easy, wasn't it? Ok. Maybe a little more.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Siegfried

The third and least-loved part of the Ring has some of its most sublime music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Badger, badger, badger, badger....the dragon Fafner emerges in Act II of Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
What's more than five hours long and has very few women in it? The answer for opera lovers is Siegfried, the third segment of Wagner's massive tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung. The Met offers three performances this spring.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Recordings Review: Rome, Built in Eighteen Days

Yannick Nézet-Séguin drives his Mozart cycle into La Clemenza di Tito.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What's an assassination between friends?
Rolando Villazón (left) goofs with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who conducts him in this new
La Clemenza di Tito. Photo © 2018 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group.
There are some operas in the repertory that owe their prominence not to the quality of their music but due to the circumstances of their creation. Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito ("The Clemency of Titus") is a leading example. The last opera he started (but not the last he finished) in his short time, it is an old-fashioned opera seria that was created in a great big hurry, with the composer racing to have the work ready in time for a coronation ceremony in the city of Prague. Legend is that he wrote the opera in eighteen days.

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