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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 © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Riot Act: The Rite of Spring Turns 100

Reflections on Igor Stravinsky's ballet masterpiece.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Do the circumstances of a work's premiere out-weigh the importance of the work itself?
Costumes for the premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.
Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, better known in this country under its original title The Rite of Spring is one work where that is entirely possible. The Rite premiered in Paris 100 years ago, and the audience's reaction to this new music had shadowed it ever since: a near-riot of well-dressed Parisians booing, catcalling, and in more than a few cases, getting caught up in the violence of the music and assaulting their neighbors.

The cops showed up at intermission.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DVD Review: The Killer Wore Furs

Verdi's Attila from the Mariinsky Theater.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Barbarian beefcake: Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role of Verdi's Attila.
Photo © 2010 The Mariinsky Theater.
For more than a century, Verdi's eighth opera Attila was sneered at, considered to be one the weakest products of his "galley years". But in the 20th century,  the opera gained new life as a vehicle for a star bass who looks smashing with his shirt off. The latest to take up that tradition is Ildar Abdrazakov. This DVD from the Mariinsky Theater (filmed in December of 2010) preserves Mr. Abdrazakov's barbarian leader for posterity. It is also the first DVD release on the Russian opera house's own label.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Opera Review: A Private Little War

operamission presents Handel's Rodrigo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(Ed. note: It is the general policy of Superconductor to publish all concert and opera reviews in a timely fashion, generally within 24 to 48 hours of the performance. However, due to an unforeseen illness, this review of last Tuesday night's operamission performance of Handel's Rodrigo is going up today. Mostly because I'm finally feeling well enough to write. Thank you for your patience and understanding.--Paul J. Pelkonen, Editor, Superconductor.)

The young Georg Friedrich Händel. Painter unknown.
Georg Friedrich Händel was astonishingly prolific. The German-born composer, who made his fortune introducing baroque opera (and later, oratorio) to English audiences composed 42 examples of that genre, most of them of excellent quality. Last Tuesday night, the small operamission company gave New Yorkers a chance to hear one of his early efforts with the New York premiere of Rodrigo. Written in 1707  and premiered in Florence, this was Händel's fifth opera and first effort for the stage in Italy.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Obituary: Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)

A small catalogue, and a huge impact.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Composer Henri Dutilleux died May 22, 2013 in Paris, France.
The great French composer Henri Dutilleux has died in Paris. He was 97.

Dutilleux helped guide the path of concert music in the 20th century away from the serial techniques first practiced by Schoenberg and Webern. His two Symphonies and Cello Concerto are among his most important works, complex pieces that challenged the ear while fearlessly breaking ground in the use of modes and atonality. A fierce self-critic, Dutilleux published a small catalogue of pieces over a long compositional career.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Who Wants to Be a Wagnerite?

or...Happy Birthday, Richard Wagner!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ernestine Schumann-Heink as Waltraute in Götterdämmerung.
Original photograph © Bettmann/Corbis. 
Festive birthday cupcake added by the author.
Today is Richard Wagner's 200th birthday, and rather than give you a listicle full of dubious recommendations for the best Ring Cycle or another review of a new recording of Die Walküre, I thought I'd talk about something important.

Wagner takes patience. Endurance. Commitment. And yes, it takes a certain degree of physical (and possibly emotional) masochism to sit through the Waltraute scene from Götterdämmerung or the marathon first act of Parsifal. Don't get me started on Die Meistersinger, a six-hour comedy that ends with the public humiliation of the local bureaucrat and a speech on the importance of "holy German art."

That's another column.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Concert Review: The Comeback

James Levine conducts the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine leads the MET Orchestra
at Carnegie Hall in a concert on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The roar was deafening.

James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera, returned to conducting on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. As the maestro's motorized wheelchair rolled into Stern Auditorium, the capacity crowd stood up and cheered. It has been two years since Mr. Levine conducted his last performance with the Met, two years of cancellations, painful rehabilitation and uncertainty for the conductor and the opera company.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Concert Review: The Defense of the New

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Barbara Hannigan as the Police Chief from Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre.
Image from BarbaraHannigan.com.
Some composers still need an advocate. Today's audiences are filled with skeptics, put off by the idea of atonal music and names like Berg, Webern and Ligeti. On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, the current music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. This program cemented Sir Simon's reputation as a fearless advocate for these new sounds, interpreted through the rich, velvety texture of this top-flight ensemble.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Concert Review: The Return of the Dazzler

Yuja Wang in recital at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yuja Wang. Photo by Xavier Antoinet.
Image © 2013 YujaWang.com.
In the course of this young decade, the pianist Yuja Wang has emerged as one of the most galvanizing artists of the keyboard appearing on concert stages. Her rock-solid virtuosity, brave repertory decisions and habit of playing recitals in a minimal black dress and a dazzling pair of heels have made her a piano celebrity, the kind that comes along once in a generation.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

White Smoke Over Huntington Avenue

Andris Nelsons to take over Boston Symphony Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons is the new Music Director at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2011 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
There's a new sheriff in Boston.

The board of the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced today that Andris Nelsons will be the ensemble's new Music Director, filling a vacancy at one of America's "big five" orchestras. The post has been empty since James Levine's resignation in 2011.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Superconductor Untitled Awards

The Five Best Performances* at the Metropolitan Opera...this season.
(*that I saw and wrote about.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Our award trophy. Well, it's really a big, weird abstract sculpture
(Untitled, by Mary Callery) in the Metropolitan Opera House.
We are at mid-May and as I start getting ready to work on next season's Metropolitan Opera coverage, it's time to wrap up 2012-2013 at the big house. Here are the five best shows I attended in a very long opera season. I've done this before, but this year, the winners get to print out this article with a nice digital blow-up of the Untitled sculpture located over the proscenium in the Sybil Harrington Auditorium. (Shipping, handling and sculpture not included.)

Before you ask, I couldn't get a ticket for Dialogues of the Carmelites. I heard it was great.

Since this year's schedule was heavily loaded toward Wagner and Verdi, (with five operas by one and seven by the other) it's not surprising to see that three of this year's top five are in fact, Verdi operas. Other honorable mentions this season include Pretty Yende in Le Comte Ory, Lyudmila Montyrska in Aida and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in pretty much anything they played, but especially in Parsifal, Götterdämmerung and The Tempest.

And the winners are....

Monday, May 13, 2013

Concert Review: His Favorite Instrument

The National Symphony Orchestra closes out Spring For Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dmitri Shostakovich (left) and his good friend and interpreter Mstislav Rostropovich.
The National Symphony Orchestra has called the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. home since that venue opened in 1971. In 1974, the NSO gained its most famous music director, when the Russian conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich took over the position shortly after his defection from the former Soviet Union. He held that post for 23 years, stepping down in 1997 to resume an international performing career.

Recordings Review: And the Chorus Shall Lead Them

The Superconductor Verdi series rolls on with Nabucco.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from the Ishtar Gate © 2013 The Pergamon Museum.
Like the weight and splendor of King Nebachudnezzar's massive Ishtar Gate (that guarded the entrance to Bablyon before winding up at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin) there's nothing subtle about Nabucco.

Verdi's third opera (and first smash hit) is a blood-and-thunder retelling of the Bablyonian captivity of the Old Testament. It opens with the sack of Jerusalem and the triumphat entrance of the Babylonian conqueror Nebachudnezzar. From there, the plot boils up a story of Nabucco's spiritual struggles with guilt as well as his fight for the throne with his psychotic daughter Abagaille. This is another Verdi collaboration with Temostocle Solera, who based the story on a French play and the events recounted in the Book of Daniel. This was Verdi's third opera to premiere at La Scala.

Recordings Review: A Flying Start

Valery Gergiev starts a new Ring with Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"And this, children, is how Wotan lost his eye." Valery Gergiev on the podium.
Photo by Alberto Venzagos © 2012 London Symphony Orchestra.
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra make their case as a premier Wagner ensemble with this new Die Walküre, released on February 12 of this year. With an all-star cast of Wagner singers and the enthusiastic Mariinsky players working under tightly controlled conditions, this may be the finest recording of this opera to  to emerge in this young century. In other words, it's damned good.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Opera Review: Countdown to Extinction

The Met presents the last Götterdämmerung of 2013.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A fine romance: Brunnhilde (Deborah Voigt) sends Siegfried (Lars Cleveman)
off to battle in the Prologue to Wagner's Götterdämmerung.
Photo © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
At the time of this writing, it is uncertain if Saturdays matinee performance of Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera, was the final performance ever of the company's current production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. If this was the last performance of Ring (which premiered with Das Rheingold in 2010) before the Met decides to cut its losses, the quality of this performance may have earned a stay of execution, if not an acquittal for this troubled show.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Concert Review: The Motor City Comet

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays four Ives symphonies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The perihelion of Halley's Comet inspired Charles Ives' Symphony No. 4.
Of all the orchestras scheduled for this year’s Spring For Music festival at Carnegie Hall, none generated more anticipation than the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. These two concerts mark the ensemble’s first return to the historic venue in 17 years, and its first visit under the leadership of its music director Leonard Slatkin.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Concert Review: Thunder on the Steppe

The Buffalo Philharmonic plays Spring For Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Russian hero Ilya Muromets and his horse Burushka, as depicted in Vladimit Toropchin's
Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber © 2007 Melnitsa Animation Studio 
The great city of Buffalo, New York may be better known for its red-hot chicken wings and enthusiastic football fans than its orchestra. At Wednesday night's Spring For Music concert at Carnegie Hall, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra made a strong case for the city by Lake Ontario as a hub of musical life in upstate New York.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Concert Review: The Golden Age of Jazz

The Albany Symphony Orchestra plays at Spring For Music.
by Ellen Fishbein
Albany Symphony Orchestra music director David Alan Miller.
The third annual Carnegie Hall Spring For Music festival continued Tuesday night with the Albany Symphony Orchestra playing a program of modern music by American composers under the baton of David Alan Miller. The program was broadcast live on WQXR, 105.9 FM.)

Festival Preview: Gilbert's Playlist

The New York Philharmonic goes inside the mind of its Music Director.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What is on Alan Gilbert's playlist?
Original photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic.
Photo alteration by the author.
The June schedule of the New York Philharmonic is the last major event of the 2013 spring concert season in New York. This year, for its final run of concerts, the orchestra is building its programming around a new concept: the personal listening habits of music director Alan Gilbert.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Twilight of the Machine

Robert Lepage's Ring may face the scrap heap.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Up in flames: a scene from Act III of the Metropolitan Opera production of Götterdämmerung.
Image © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
According to an article published yesterday on parterre.com, this might be the end of the road for the Metropolitan Opera's current production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The company has one performance of Siegfried and one of Götterdämmerung scheduled for later this week.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Concert Review: A Day at the Races

Maurizio Pollini plays Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Preacher man: Maurizio Pollini played Beethoven at Carnegie Hall this Sunday.
Photo © Universal Classics.
The return of pianist Maurizio Pollini to the concert stage of Carnegie Hall this spring was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the spring classical season. The Italian-born pianist had been forced to cancel appearences in 2011 and 2012. Adding to the excitement: the fact that Sunday's program featured the award-winning recording artist playing nothing but Beethoven: four of those piano sonatas dubbed the "New Testament" of the instrument.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Concert Review: A Cellist's Last Song

The Kronos Quartet returns to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Kronos Quartet: Hank Dutt, Jeffery Zeigler, David Harrington, John Sherba.
The Kronos Quartet returned to Carnegie Hall's downstairs Zankel Hall on Friday night. This concert marks cellist Jeffrey Zeigler's last New York appearance with the ensemble; he is scheduled to leave Kronos later this year. Future lineup changes aside, the program offered what New Yorkers have expected of Kronos in the ensemble's four-decade history: cutting-edge new music delivered with precision and style.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Concert Review: Winning the Bear

Evgeny Kissin plays Carnegie Hall.
by Ellen Fishbein
The pianist Evgeny Kissin returned to Carnegie Hall on Friday night.
Photo © EMI Classics.
On Friday night, pianist Evgeny Kissin presented a program at Carnegie Hall that was a thoughtful reflection on the passage of time. Sticking close to the standard repertory, the pianist tracked the development of piano music from Haydn through the works of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Concert Review: The Shame of a Nation

The American Symphony Orchestra presents Hungary Torn
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The damage done to Hungary by the right-wing "Arrow Cross" movement and the Nazis
has forever scarred the country's cultural heritage. Photoshop by the author.
The horrors inflicted on Europe by the rise of fascism in the 1930s were not confined to Germany and Italy. On Thursday night, Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra used the work of five relatively obscure composers to explore the detriment of that political movement and the following Second World War on the development of music and arts in Hungary. Their goal: to shed much-needed light on these brilliant voices, silenced all too early.

Minnesota Orchestra Lockout Goes "Fargo"


Music Director Ösmo Vänskä threatens to walk.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Whaddya mean we're not going to New York?" Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter in Fargo.
Image © 1996 MGM.
The overwhelming silence that has settled over the Minnesota Orchestra, locked out since September, broke earlier this week, as music director Ösmo Vänskä threatened to resign.

Obituary Jeff Hanneman (1964-2013)

Slayer guitarist, songwriter died of liver failure.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, onstage with the band in 2011.
The damage from flesh-eating bacteria is visible on his right arm. Photo: Getty Images.
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman, founding member of the Los Angeles heavy metal band Slayer, died yesterday of liver failure. He was 49.

His death was reported on Slayer's official Facebook page:

Mr. Hanneman was one of the pioneering thrash band's principal songwriters, penning some of the band's signature songs. He was also a ferocious live performer, with a wild, skittering guitar style that reflected the nightmarish content of Slayer's lyrics.

With a Spring in Their Step

A Preview of Spring For Music at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's all about potential energy. Slinky™ is a trademark of Poof-Slinky Inc.
With the arrival of May in New York City, it's time for what has become an annual tradition: the Spring For Music Festival at Carnegie Hall. This six day event showcases orchestras from around the country playing repertory that is slightly outside the lines.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Concert Review: The Limits of Control

Richard Goode plays the last three Beethoven sonatas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ignore the hat: the pianist Richard Goode.
Photograph by Michael Wilson.
When a concert program is abstract in nature and of the utmost seriousness, writing a competent review becomes a challenge. Take, for example, Tuesday night's recital at Carnegie Hall, with pianist Richard Goode playing the last three sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. Mr. Goode's ability in this repertory is well known and his technique is universally respected. So what is the news quality, the element that separates this fine New York-bred soloist from all the other virtuosos treading the boards of our fair city's concert halls?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Opera Review: Fur is Murder

Juilliard Opera presents The Cunning Little Vixen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Vixen Sharp-Ears (left, standing center) instructs her brood as the Fox (Karen Vuong, right) looks on.
Photo by Nan Melville © 2013 The Juilliard School.
The unexpected renaissance of Czech opera at Juilliard continues with the Juilliard Opera's energetic, season-ending production of Leoš Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen, seen April 30 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. This production, combining some of the best singers from the conservatory's upper and lower divisions, offers a fresh take on this beloved opera. The opera was performed in English and without intermissions.

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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.