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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.

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.

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