Reviews ...

Melrose Symphony Pops Wows Crowd in Memorial Hall

... full house for Pops concert ... 

by Jackie Wattenberg

Once again the Melrose Symphony Orchestra displayed its remarkable appeal with an up-to-the-rafters full house for their recent Spring Pops concert in Memorial Hall. The overflowing audience - some late arrivals willing to sit on the balcony steps - was joyful throughout.

Some of us might wish for more serious music - two of the four performances a year are of light music - but the grins, the clapping and stomping to Sousa, the standing ovations with cheers and whistles leave no doubt that this kind of program brings out the spirit of a big win by the Red Sox.

Orchestra President Millie Rich gave credit on stage to new conductor Yoichi Udagawa for the big turnout for concerts in this, his third year on the podium; his cheery, chatty personality and the improvement he has brought to the orchestra's sound have made the difference.

The orchestra never sounded better. Sousa, "The Blue Danube" ("former Mayor Milano's favorite," said the conductor), the captivating music from "The King and I," and John Williams' exciting score for "Star Wars" were well presented, with the drive and energy the young maestro never loses. Mahler and Shostakovich would be great to hear in Memorial Hall, but this was Pops night and Udagawa knows which music his orchestra of mixed backgrounds - some old pros, some students of just a few years - can manage best.

The highlight of the evening for this writer was trumpeter Jeffrey Work, whose solo playing has been nationally recognized. There isn't an abundance of solo works for trumpet, not compared to compositions for piano and violin with orchestra, so it was a treat to hear the "Trumpet Concerto in F Minor" by Romantic composer Oskar Boehm. (The piece was chosen as a substitute for a more modern Armenian composer, whose music proved too expensive to import from Russia.)

Trumpets do have moments to shine in classical music, but only in pop bands are they able to star and strut their stuff. So it was a delight to hear the instrument's power and possibilities in the hands - and lips - of the young soloist who has performed with such luminaries as Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra. He projected the instrument's bold and beautiful tone in the three movements of the concerto, provoking irrepressible applause after each movement.

The orchestra provided subdued accompaniment as Mr. Work offered fine phrasing and masterful shifts in dynamics (ranging from high volume to a poetic softness), rushing runs and trills and a catchy burbling cascade that raised a counterpoint of listeners' chuckles. His sound can be brilliant and triumphant, or mellow and luscious. This pop audience was spellbound.

Instead of another world premiere to open the program, Udagawa again played the "Melrose Overture" by Shrewsbury composer Scott Ethier. On second hearing, it comes across as a pleasing and sound composition. Hard to say just what might be designated as Melrosian about it, but natives might suggest that its major cheeriness, appealing melodies and moments of energetic rhythms reflect the town's amicability.

It's always fun to hear Gershwin, and his "Strike Up the Band" was given a peppy reading. And it was absorbing to hear John Williams' score for "Star Wars." It's a colorful work with dramatic momentum to set off the film's action, but it's satisfying even without the film. A laughing moment came as the conductor's baton suddenly gleamed green and became a long laser sword, as seen in the movie.

On the viewers' way out, there wasn't a frown in sight.

June 20, 200

This review was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on June 1, 2000.  Reprinted here with permission of the Melrose Free Press.


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