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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, 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
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
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

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.
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.

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