About Superconductor

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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Concert Review: Robert and Clara (and their friend Johannes)

It's all Schumann and Brahms at Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The 5,000 Fingers of Kirill Gerstein. The pianist played Mostly Mozart this week.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The trials and tribulations of the great Romantic composers have always fascinated the classical music-loving public. From the extramarital wanderings of Richard Wagner to Frederic Chopin's stormy relationship with the lady novelist George Sand, it has provided fodder for intermission conversation over coffee and small overpriced sandwiches,. Arguably, the most famous triangle relationship was between three composers: Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Johannes Brahms.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Exterminating Angel

Thomas Adès' new opera comes to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from The Exterminating Angel.Image courtesy Royal Opera of Covent Garden.

British composer Thomas Adès, known for his operas Powder Her Face and The Tempest adapts the 1962 Luis Buñuel film for the stage. In this new work, surreal comedy becomes survival5 drama as the guests at a very strange dinner party find that, come the next morning, they are not allowed to leave.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Concert Review: The Survival of the Fittest

Yes bring their touring "Yestival" to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes go close to the edge. L.-R.: Steve Howe, Dylan Howe, Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Billy Sherwood.
Photo by the author, graphics by Roger Dean.
Yes, the British progressive rock band known for long Byzantine songs and perpetual lineup changes, rolled through Brooklyn last night, bringing their tour, dubbed "Yestival", to the Ford Amphitheater on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The veteran band, who are celebrating their past due induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, brought yet another lineup change, and a set that featured ten carefully chosen songs, one from each of] their first ten albums, played in chronological order.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Antic Disposition

The Danish String Quartet play Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The members f the Danish String Quartet and their latest construction project.
Photo courtesy Kirshbaum Associates. 

Each summer, the Mostly Mozart Festival is dominated by the main stage orchestra offerings at David Geffen Hall. On Thursday evening, however, the ears of its audience were attuned to chamber music. This concert at Alice Tully Hall featured two of the great string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, as played by that excellent and fast-rising ensemble, the Danish String Quartet. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Concert Review: Rolling Doubles

Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis at Mostly Mozart.
Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis team up again at Mostly Mozart.
Photo courtesy Linfoln Center/Mostly Mozart.
Tuesday night's concert at Mostly Mozart, conducted by Andrew Mainze and featuring an all-star tandem of soloists featured a distinct absence of music by Mozart. Rather, the Festival Orchestra turned its talents to Brahms, Bach and Mendelssohn. The program was well chosen, bringing together three unusual and infrequently layer pieces together. Credit for this must go to the scholarly Mr. Mainze, whose cool-headed, cerebral approach to music-making has four him at the helm of the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Concert Review: New Blood for Old Masters

Beatrice Rana plays Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young virtuoso Beatrice Rana took Mostly Mozart by storm.
Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Classics.
The music of Bach and Beethoven form a rite of passage for any young pianist. Playing the challenging works of these composers before a paying audience (as Beatrice Rana did last week at Mostly Mozart) is a further test. On Friday night, Ms. Rana made her festival debut with two performances: a preliminary concert featuring Bach's Partita No. 2 in c minor and the main event: a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Friday, August 4, 2017

There is Water Under Ground

The importance of Remaining in Light.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo performed Remain in Light
by the Talking Heads at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night.
The other night, as my concert companion and I walked out of Mostly Mozart, we started crossing Lincoln Center Plaza southward. As we approached the bandshell, we heard the extraordinary sound of...the Talking Heads. Now, I don't usually go to another concert right on top of the first one, and I'm reluctant to be in a crowd when processing a show. However, this was Angelique Kidjo and her band, and one of the events this summer that I had wanted to see (and had forgotten about) a complete performance of the classic 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Concert Review: Of Trash Cans, Bottles and Pipes

Sō Percussion joins Mostly Mozart for a new concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
They're lumberjacks and they're OK: the men of Sō Percussion.
Photo © 2017 
Sō Percussion/Mostly Mozart Festival.
In recent years, the Mostly Mozart Festival, once the staid haven of conservative music lovers in the hot summers of New York City, has become a home for new music. On Wednesday night, the Festival Orchestra and its music director Louis Langrée were joined by Sō Percussion, a New York based quartet. This was the second of two concerts this week, featuring the premiere of man made, a new work by David Lang.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recordings Review: This Ain't No Fairy Music

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Mendelssohn's five symphonies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cover portrait of Yannick Nézet-Séguin from his new DG cycle
of Mendelssohn symphonies. © 2017 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
The five symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn have enjoyed a mixed reputation in the hectic whirl of the 21st century. Two of them remain standard program items: the Third ("Scottish") and Fourth ("Italian"), musical walking tours in which the composer muses on his travels to those two countries. The Fifth ("Reformation") stands between the early Romanticism of Beethoven and the perfectionism of Brahms. And the first two are almost never programmed: a cheerful work of the composer's early maturity and a massive choral symphony that is closer in its nature to a cantata. All these works used to be recorded regularly, but a new cycle of Mendelssohn symphonies is like a tricycle for adults: stable, reliable, but not everyone wants or needs one.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Opera Review: Tsarface

The Time of Troubles comes to Bard College with Dimitrij.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Family snapshot: the false tsar Dimitrij (Clay Hilley, center)
flanked by Marfa (Nora Sourouzian) and Marina, his wife (Melissa Citro).
Photo courtesy Bard College and Bard SummerScape.

The operas of Antonín Dvorak are central to the repertory in that composer’s native land, but apart from Rusalka, remain neglected here in the United States. That may change after this weekend, when Bard SummerScape offered the first fully staged U.S. Performances of Dimitrij. Planned to be Dvorak's breakthrough international success, this opera is his most ambitious stage work: an absorbing, turbulent drama chronicling the start of the Time of Troubles, the most turbulent period in Russian history,

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Total Perspective Vortex

Strauss, Nietzsche and Ein Alpensinfonie
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The climactic moment of Strauss' Ein Alpensinfonie.

Before he rose to fame as the creator of operas like Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss was famed for his tone poems. Of these, his last and most ambitious is Ein Alpensinfonie from 1915. It is a mind-boggling 22-movement work which follows some of the conventions of a proper symphony but is designed to be played as one single unit, telling the story of a day's journey up an Alp in his native Bavaria.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Turandot

Fantastical, phantasmagorical and faintly ridiculous.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's amore: Marcelo Alvarez (center) woos Turandot as thousands cheer.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's elaborate production of Puccini's final opera returns to the delight of people who like "Nessun dorma" and big, elaborate productions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

Death, romance and the rooftops of Paris in Puccini's timeless opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susanna Philips as Musetta and cast in Act II of La bohème. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera markets Puccini's third opera as "the most popular opera of all time." That may be debatable, but the show returns this year in Franco Zefirelli's elaborate and constantly rehabilitated production.

Death, Congress and Tosca

On Twitter with Puccini and the banality of evil.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Cover art for the CD issue of the 1980 Karajan Tosca.
Image © 1980 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
It started because I couldn't sleep.

Tonight was the super-stealthy midnight vote by the Republican Party to enact a so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, the health care achievement by President Barack Obama that has enabled me to continue my career both as a freelance writer and as the author of Superconductor, my very own classical music publication that you're reading if you're reading this right now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Opera Preview: Dimitrij

Superconductor delves into "The Time of Troubles" and Dvořák's opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The incident that started it all: Ivan the Terrible (top) holds his dying son Ivanovich.
Painting by Vadim Repin. 
The biggest opera premiere of the summer is this Friday evening, when Bard SummerScape unveils the rarely performed Dmitrij by Antonín Dvořák. Dmitrij is a Czech opera that delves into a bloody and to historians, fascinating period: the Time of Troubles. With the premiere scheduled for Friday night, I thought it would be a good idea to delve into the history of Dmitrij, and its more famous "prequel": Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Zauberflöte

We test the theory that everything is funnier in German.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kathryn Lewek is the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
Photo by Ken Howard © The Metropolitan Opera.
James Levine continues his tour of the great Mozart operas with the composer's last work. Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute") is part knockabout comedy, part love story and part sacred mystical journey into enlightenment for its young hero. This is the uncut version of the opera, sung in German. (A shorter version in English will be offered in December, geared toward a younger audience.)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Recordings Review: He's No Hero, That's Understood

Paavo Järvi and the NHK Symphony Orchestra unleash Strauss tone poems.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Helmsman: Paavo Järvi leading the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Belinda Lawley © 2017 NHK
The NHK Symphony Orchestra is one of the twenty-four professional ensembles that call Tokyo, Japan their home, a mind-boggling number to the critic who lives in a culture where the arts are treated as some sort of afterthought by those  who see to the dispersal of public funds for such matters. So far, the pairing of the orchestra with Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi has been a fruitful one. The first harvest from his term as music director is an exciting new recording, made in Suntory Hall of two very familiar Richard Strauss tone poems: Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Concert Review: The New Teen Titans

The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America marks five years at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America,
also known as the Red Pants Brigade. Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall.
A concert performed by an orchestra of musicians between the age of sixteen to nineteen is usually not an occasion for comment. However, on Friday night, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America played at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of Marin Alsop. The NYO-USA was established five years ago through the good offices of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and remains an important initiative in the sadly neglected and underfunded field of American music education.

It would be fallacious to hold these young musicians, in their uniform of black jackets, red concert slacks and low-cut canvas sneakers to the same standard as the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics. There were missed notes, or notes played past the measure. There were some lured and awkward phrases. However the lack of polish in their playing was compensated for with a raw energy and enthusiasm, and a fearlessness as they took on the challenge of two works by modern composers and one of Gustav Mahler’s most familiar and most forbidding symphonies: the First.

The concert started with Short Ride in a Fast Machine, a four minute curtain raiser by John Adams that epitomizes the phrase “truth in advertising.” A repeatedly tapped woodblock provided the piston pump on that machines engine, with violins  winds and brass sawing, chirping and bellowing Mr. Adams’ trademark short cells of sound. Rough this the woodblock persisted, embodying either the ticking of an overworked engine or an excited woodpecker strapped firmly into the passenger seat. This is a work of propulsive movement that climaxes in a golden glow of sound.

Ms. Alsop proved to be a rally-class driver of this very large ensemble, navigating Mr. Adams’ gear-shifts of meter and phrase. She whipped the big orchestra around the hairpin turns while immersing the listener in the dens orchestral soundscape, Somehow this short piece seemed a lot longer and more absorbing then its four-minute length would indicate.

The orchestra seemed more enthusiastic about the second piece of the evening, the three movement Apu: A Tone Poem for Orchestra from the pen of Gabriella Lena Frank. This was a kind of concerto for orchestra in three movements, with complicated lines for woodwind a and high percussion. Its purpose: to depict the Apu, a wilderness spirit that appears to travelers high in the mountain passes of Peru. Like the playful mountain spirit, the spiritual center of Ms. Frank's work revealed itself slowly and proved to be well worth the journey. The final movement was exuberant and demanding.

Mahler's First Symphony is one of the composer's most accessible: an early statement of purpose loaded with quotes from the composer's own songs, children's rhymes and even a fragment of Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel. It remains popular with audiences and regularly programmed as a result. However the four movements of this symphony (once nicknamed “the Titan”) are a stiff climb for even the most seasoned professional band. Here. The NYO-USA players seemed challenged in the first movement where woodwind phrases were overextended and the first roar of the horns feeble and timid. However, Ms. Alsop recognized the difficulties and responded with an urgent tempo, letting the energy of the movement build and build before erupting in a storm of timpani and trumpet in its closing pages.

The dance movement was taken at a similar urgent pace, with the cellos chugging out the rollicking almost nautical rhythm. Some slurred string phrases in the trio were forgivable. E slow movement was super, a smoldering funeral march that ascended into a manic celebration before relapsing into the quiet meditation of the opening theme. The final movement detonated, with Ms. Alsop letting her charges burst forth into exuberant fanfares. Wind and brass. Indeed, the horn section did the heroic, heavy lifting at the end. They stood and played proudly with robust tone and bells raised for maximum volume, hammering home the last notes of this audacious and ebullient work.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les contes d'Hoffmann

Is it really happening or is it all just fantasy?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I love you Miss Robot: Vittorio Grigolo hits on Erin Morley in a scene from Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Offenbach's final opera, a phantasmagorical tale about a writer trapped in stories of his own creation. Vittorio Grigolo is the hapless hero in this tragicomic classic.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Met Al Fresco: Summer Live in HD Festival

A look ahead at next month's Peter Gelb film festival in Lincoln Center Plaza.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Eric Owens in L'Amour de Loin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 the Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera returns to its tradition of showing reruns to an adoring public at Lincoln Center plaza in the late summer. This year the company offers screenings of eight operas plus filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's version of The Magic Flute. Why only eight operas, you ask? Because one of them, Wagner's four hour epic Tristan und Isolde is being split into two nights.

All the screenings will be held on Lincoln Center Plaza, with the 3,000 FREE seats filled on a first-come first-serve basis. Programs and playbills will be provided.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Norma

A change of seasons and a change of divas for Opening Night.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Priestess in distress: Sondra Radvanovsky is Norma.
Photo by Paola Kudacki © 2017 the Metropolitan Opera.
Norma is one of those operas that is all about the soprano singing the title role. In this case, the Metropolitan Opera opens its 2017-18 season with a new production by Sir David McVicar, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as the knife-wielding pagan priestess who reacts badly when she learns her boyfriend (the leader of the opposing Roman forces) is cheating on her....with her handmaiden.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Concert Review: Outside it May Be Raining...

Beating the heat with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Partners at work: David Finckel and Wu Han.
Photo from the artists' website.
Most summer music festivals take place under hot tents or purpose-built structures open to the elements. Neither are conducive to good music-making, although the combination of grassy swards, majestic trees and a good bottle of cab. franc makes up for any unpleasantness. The Chamber Music Society's summer series, which gave the second of three concerts on Wednesday night, offers a comfortable alternative: the air-conditioned acoustic excellence of Alice Tully Hall.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Follies on the Roof

Tosca star, conductor take the act to Tanglewood.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jump they say: Karita Mattila in a promotional shot for the Met's old production of Tosca.
Image © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera

Those wanting to see the original conductor and soprano scheduled for the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Tosca should head to Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. on August 26. Conductor Andris Nelsons and his wife Kristine Opolais will perform Act II of the opera in a special opera gala at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's annual summer festival.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Concert Review: When the Typewriters Talk....

Lincoln Center Festival does Naked Lunch.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Liquid courage: Peter Weller drinks up in Naked Lunch.
Image Copyright 1991 201th Century Fox.
Ornette Coleman carved his own path as a composer. As he burst upon the scene, he epitomized the atonal explorations of free jazz and then developing his own musical system of “harmolodics” to express himself with saxophone and pen. On Tuesday night, the Lincoln Center Festival kicked off its week-long Coleman tribute with a screening of Naked Lunch, the surreal, disturbing and very funny David Cronenberg film for which Coleman supplied part of the soundtrack.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Orpheus in Thuringia

Why did Wagner choose to set Tannhäuser?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This isn't exactly what happens in Tannhäuser but to be fair
it is a long opera. Art by John Byrne from The Incredible Hulk No. 315 © Marvel Comics.
Of the thirteen operas that Richard Wagner brought to the stage, it is his fifth, Tannhäuser that creates the most headaches for singers, conductors and directors. It is a Germanic update of the the Orpheus myth. Wagner distilled his libretto from theee separate medieval legends, creating a complex and flawed work that meditates on the dichotomy between reason and passion, between celestial fate and earthly lust, with an artist and musician trapped in the middle.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Transformative Alchemy: Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

An analysis of the Pastorale Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
 Beethoven and Nature.
Detail from the painting by N.C. Wyeth.

What is program music? This is a question that musicians and music critics have been wrestling with (and generally losing the match) for 200 years. The debate started in 1808, the year that Ludwig van Beethoven premiered his Symphony No. 6 in F Major, the Pastorale. While it would be Hector Berlioz who created the first detailed program for a symphony 22 years later in his Symphonie-fantastique, Beethoven pointed the way forward by substituting movement titles for the usual tempo markings. 

Recordings Review: One Man Against the World

Jonas Kaufmann sings Mahler solo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The mysterious Jonas Kaufmann.
Photo by Julian Hargreaves for Sony Classical.
How does a singer start his next act? If you're Jonas Kaufmann, the heartthrob tenor who is known for his good looks, stage presence and (more recently) frequent cancellations, you do it on record. Mr. Kaufmann is known for the lighter Wagner tenor roles (Lohengrin, Parsifal) as well as heroic parts in the operas of Puccini, Bizet and Massenet. However his newest recording, released this spring by Sony Classical is something different: a solo flight through Mahler’s autumnal epic Das Lied Von der Erde.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Opera at Random: Pelléas et Mélisande

A walk in the dark woods with Claude Debussy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from the (rather beautiful) Robert Wilson staging of
Pelléas et Mélisande from the Opera de Paris. Photo courtesy medici.tv.
Like the forests of Allemonde, Superconductor was dark for the last week as I rested, recharged and figured out what direction I want to take this blog in next. Today, I borrowed an idea from the composer John Cage: indeterminacy. Using the shuffle function on my old 160GB iPod Classic to decide which composer I'm writing about. And the winner is: Claude Debussy and his lone opera: Pelléas et Mélisande.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Five Great Opera Performances: Spring 2017

Here are five memorable operas from the spring of 2017.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Does this really need a caption? Photoshop by the author.
This is a fertile time for opera in New York, with singers, conductors and impresarios exercising imagination and daring to bring lesser known operas before an enthusiastic public. From the daring new music of the PROTOTYPE Festival to the lesser-known stage works of Rossini and Rimsky-Korsakov, our city is a cornucopia of operatic opportunity.

Here are five of the more impressive opera performances reviewed on Superconductor in the spring of 2017.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Lincoln Center Festival

No symphonies. No concertos. No opera. No problem?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The legendary saxophonist Ornette Coleman's spirit lives on at this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
The Lincoln Center Festival continues to push the cutting edge, leaving symphony, concerto (and yes, opera) behind for a bold poutpurri of world music, electronica and one of the most innovative voices in American jazz: Ornette Coleman.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Tanglewood

Another summer under the trees offers gods, rainbows and Mahler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Koussevitsky Concert Shed at Tanglewood, guarded by a really big tree.
Photo courtesy the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Whisper the name "Tanglewood" and you will tickle the conscience of the novice classical music-goer, and fire the memories of those who have walked its grassy paths and visited the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Located on a sprawling estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, this is the Cadillac of summer festivals, offering symphonies, chamber music and opera to a throng of devotees who make the pilgrimage again and again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Five Best Orchestral Concerts: Spring 2017

We look at the five best concerts of the spring season that was.

As I'm on vacation this week, we're going to be looking back at some of the most memorable performances of the year 2017 (so far, anyway.) Here are the best symphonic concerts, from shows seen at Carnegie Hall (including Daniel Barenboim's nine-concert Bruckner cycle) to as far away as Osaka, Japan. Oh yeah. I went to Japan in February. Anyway, here's the reviews, all written by yours truly.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Bard SummerScape

False Tsars and Polish piano mastery mark this year's festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Murder of the False Dmitry by Konstantin Makovsky
gives some idea of the mayhem to come at this summer's Bard Festival.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The rolling greens of Bard College, located just off the Hudson River in the quaint but practical little town of Annandale-on-Hudson, welcome music lovers once more. The attraction: Bard SummerScape, offering six weeks of classical music, academic programming and as always, a unique opera that you probably won't hear anywhere else anytime soon.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Opera Review: Of Chickens and Eggs

Apotheosis Opera explores Richard Strauss' Capriccio.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Friendly rivals: Olivier (Wayne Hu) and Flamand (Joe Palarca) square off in Capriccio.
Photography by Steve Malinski for Apotheosis Opera.
Capriccio, the fifteenth and final opera by Richard Strauss, is usually mounted by a large company (in a too-cavernous house) as a vehicle for a star soprano who wants to add Countess Madeleine to her resumé (presumably to stand next to the Marschallin and Arabella in a gallery of elegant Strauss heroines.) On Thursday night, a scrappy new production by Apotheosis Opera  revealed depth and charm in what is too often dismissed as a supercilious and superficial work.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Concert Review: Exit Under Fireworks

Alan Gilbert leads the Concerts in the Parks.
by Paul J. Pelkonenppelkonen@gmail.com
And he's out. Alan Gilbert gave his last Central Park concert as music director
on Wednesday night. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 New York Philharmonic.
Alan Gilbert gave his final New York concerts as music director of the New York Philharmonic this week, leading the annual Concerts in the Parks series in four boroughs. Wednesday's concert on the Great Lawn of Central Park was blessed with magnificent weather: clear skies and 80 degrees. Perfect.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Opera Review: Wings Without Zing

The New York City Opera offers a bland Angels in America.
by Paul J. Pelkonenppelkonen@gmail.com
All night angel wrestling match: Angels in America at New York City Opera.
Photo by Sarah Shatz for New York City Opera.
It takes some guts to put on an adaptation of a popular contemporary play, especially a loaded and political work that unflinchingly addressed the AIDS crisis in the 1990s. That's the challenge facing New York City Opera with its last production of the season: Peter Eötvös' 2004 adaptation of Tony Kushner's award-winning two-part play Angels in America. Unfortunately, this version of Angels, seen here in its New York premiere, dilutes the play instead of distilling its message.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Concerts in the Parks

The New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert offer free music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert (standing) leads the New York Philharmonic
at the Concerts in the Parks. Photo by Chris Lee.
The New York Philharmonic subscription series is ended, and with it the 2016-17 classical music season. However, we're not quite done yet. Tuesday night marks the start of the week-long Concerts in the Parks series, the last of Alan Gilbert's official duties as the orchestra's Music Director.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Concert Review: Exit in a Blaze of Glory

Alan Gilbert ends his tenure with Mahler’s Seventh.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert. Photo by Chris Lee. Photoshop by the author.
When it comes to the exit of Alan Gilbert from the post of Music Director after only eight years, the New York Philharmonic has put on its bravest face.  This week’s season-ending series of concerts, (promoted as “A Concert for Unity”) have featured starry opening acts for America’s oldest orchestra. Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble played Thursday night. On Friday, jazzmaster Wynton Marsalis took the stage, backed by a piano trio. (Saturday's concert, broadcast live on Facebook, featured the orchestra al fresco.) These concerts also mark the launch of a new orchestral initiative by Mr. Gilbert. A collaboration with the United Nations, this is the latest effort at bringing international musicians together in a search for better communication and diplomatic understanding.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Summer Festival Preview: Caramoor

The stately festival in Katonah prepares for changes.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The big tent at Caramoor and at one end, the Venetian Theater.
Doings are a-transpiring at the Rosen Estate, the stately faux-Italian Renaissance manor house in Katonah, NY that is the home of the Caramoor Festival. Caramoor is the summer home of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and is reknowned for its series of chamber music, orchestral concerts and opera performances.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Concert Review: Now We Can Play the Forbidden Music

Esa-Pekka Salonen and the MET Orchestra end the Carnegie Hall season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
In flight: Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Photo by Nicolas Brodard © 2017 the Philharmonia Orchestra.
The Carnegie Hall subscription season ended Tuesday night with an epic concert featuring conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, the MET Orchestra and a heaping program of four works by Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius. These two composers remain touchstones of Mr. Salonen’s long and successful podium career. With bold repertory choices (including a Mahler piece that, unaccountably, may have had its Carnegie Hall premiere at his very concert!) and a starry pair of guests, this proved a revelatory and engrossing evening.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Concert Review: Tomorrow's New Country

Gregg Kallor and the Attacca Quartet play new music. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Five alive: Gregg Kallor (left) and the Attacca Quartet in concert at the Sheen Center.
Photo by Andrew Ousley.
Even as towers of glass and steel encroach upon the quiet streets of the East Village, the spirit of musical experimentation lives on. One of its exponents is composer pianist Gregg Kallor. On Monday night at the Sheen Center, Mr. Kallor and the Attacca Quartet gave a joint recital that featured the world premiere of Some Not Too Distant Tomorrow. This was the centerpiece of the evening: a new work for piano and string quartet inspired by  the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Opera Review: Exit Over the Rainbow

Alan Gilbert's valediction continues with Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The gods have a strategy session in Das Rheingold as Alan Gilbert (right) conducts.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
It wasn't even supposed to be Wagner.

A week ago, Michael Cooper of The New York Times wrote a lengthy feature about Alan Gilbert, the conductor who is in the midst of saying goodbye to the New York Philharmonic after eight storm-tossed years at its helm. This year, Mr. Gilbert had planned to present Olivier Messiaen's epic opera Saint-Francois d'Assisse giving New Yorkers a chance to hear this great work with Eric Owens in the title role.

This never happened.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Concert Review: Between East and West Lies the North

Esa-Pekka Salonen and the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen in flight. Photo © Radio France.
In 2009, Esa-Pekka Salonen stunned the music world when he announced that he would step off the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to devote his life to his first love, composition. Thus, a Salonen concert (at least one that does not include his own compositions) is a rarity in New York, happening only a few times per season. On Saturday afternoon at Carnegie Hall, an eager audience gathered to hear his take on two repertory warhorses: Schumann's Symphony No. 3 ("Rhenish") and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, a sprawling, valedictory work that was almost catalogued as that composer's Symphony No. 9.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Concert Review: An Exit Through the Wings

The Philharmonic plays Brahms and Salonen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(Superconductor makes an effort to publish in a timely manner. However, my rustic holiday proved more rustic than planned as there was almost no internet access. Here's the review from two weeks ago, cleaned up from a rough draft and posted for your enjoyment.--Paul)
Alan Gilbert calls a halt. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
There is no delicate way to put this. The New York Philharmonic is an organization in turmoil. Its music director is leaving. Its future and the essential renovation of its hall are underfunded. And next year will have  a succession of guest conductors as the orchestra prepares for the arrival of Jaap van Zweden as its music director. For now though, the orchestra is markin gthe departure of Alan Gilbert with yet another series of custom made concerts from the imagination of a maestro with a vast spectrum of tastes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Well Hello Again

Superconductor is back from vacation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

In case you haven't noticed, this blog has been quiet. Very quiet. I gave myself two weeks of vacation, badly needed. We go back into business tomorrow, with two performances in the city: the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and Das Rheingold with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Entry of the Xenomorphs into Valhalla

Wagner and Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony."--Walter, Alien: Covenant

Piano android: Michael Fässbender in Alien: Covenant.
Photo © 2017 20th Century Fox.
The search for the meaning of mankind's existence may have inspired the creation of that greatest of operatic works, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. It also is a central thread of Alien: Covenant, the new film in the Alien franchise that serves as a sequel to the 2012 Prometheus and as a lead-in to the original 1979 horror classic Alien. Unexpectedly, it starts with...Wagner.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Opera Review: The Day-Glo Ultraviolet Alert System

New Opera NYC hatches The Golden Cockerel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tsar wars: Mikhail Svetlov as King Dodon in  The Golden Cockerel.
Photo courtesy New Opera NYC.

In New York City it is a rare pleasure to hear Russian opera that isn't by Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky. So it was a treat to learn that the plucky New Opera NYC, founded three years ago by director Igor Konyukhov chose to mount The Golden Cockerel, the final stage work by composer Nokolai Rimsky-Korsakov as part of the ongoing New York Opera Festival. Friday night’s show was the second of five at the Sheen Center, a converted vaudeville house on Bleecker Street that works perfectly well for opera on a modest scale.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Concert Review: Because It's There

Kyung-Wha Chung plays Bach.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mountan ear: Kyung-Wha Chung and friend.
Photo from ICA courtesy International Classical Artists.
When Johann Sebastian Bach, a superb violinist, wrote the six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, he intended for these works to be an instructional tool, a manual to challenge students and further their abilities on the stringed instrument. It was not until the 19th century (when the works were first published) and the rise of the string virtuoso that playing all six works, in a public recital became a challenge that appealed to every violinist looking to establish or further their reputation.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Concert Review: Let Me Drown

Novus NY plays Become Ocean.
(This review is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.)
The composer John Luther Adams who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Become Ocean.
St. Paul's Chapel, located in the long shadow of the World Trade Center is one of the oldest and most historic churches in New York. On Thursday afternoon, the last matinee concert of the annual music series sponsored by Trinity Church featured another historic occasion: the second New York pperformance of Become Ocean, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning composition by John Luther Adams. This concert, featuring contemporary orchestra Novus NY under the baton of Trinity Church maestro Julian Wachner, paired Mr. Adams' creation with works by contemporary composers Luna Pearl Woolf  and Jessica Meyer. All three composers were in attendance,

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Contender from Philadelphia

Yannick Nézet-Séguin hire is the best thing about the Met season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gloves off: Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the new "creed" at the Met.
Photo alteration by the author.

The Metropolitan Opera bounced back this year, delivering an artistically satisfying season that nonetheless failed to set the box office on fire. The biggest news though is the long-awaited end of the James Levine era, as conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been tapped as the company's new music director. Mr. Nézet-Séguin's term does not start until the end of this decade but he brings something new to this massive opera operation: hope.

Here's the wrap-up of the season, in which your not-so-humble critic saw twenty performances of twenty different operas. Superconductor, which relies on the generosity of press tickets from arts organizations in order to operate, still does not receive them from the Metropolitan Opera. Hopefully that will change.

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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.