Reviews ...

Stunning violinist, triumphant conductor at Melrose Symphony

... today Melrose can take pride in its own orchestra

by Jackie Wattenberg

There was a time when we did not review the concerts of the Melrose Symphony Orchestra -- there would have been too many negatives. It was not a delight for the ears to hear the valiant attempt of the musicians to sound symphonic.

Today Melrose takes justified pride in having its own orchestra -- how many cities can make that claim? -- and what has made the difference is Conductor Yoichi Udagawa.

Saturday night he brought a brilliant young violinist, Irina Muresanu, to Memorial Hall's stage to perform Tschaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, a challenging, exciting work whose every challenge she met with exemplary musicality and full assurance in her technique. Just as notable was the fine support she received from the orchestra under Conductor Udagawa's magical hands. Never have I heard the orchestra sound so professional, and the score is not a forgiving one.

Millie Rich, president of the orchestra's board of directors, said it all in her customary welcoming remarks from the stage at the concert's beginning: "Yoichi Udagawa has made the biggest difference since I've been associated with the orchestra." That is, since 1982.

With no showoff histrionics, Muresanu electrified the audience with her dazzling cadenzas, shimmering chromatic runs, and grasp of the concerto's dramatic climaxes. Her tone on her 1856 Rocca violin is mellow and refined, admirable through her sensitive and thoughtful approach to the music.

After the first movemment, the audience was stirred to applause and a standing ovation. Udagawa cheerily accepts this, even encouraging such responses between movements of a symphony or concerto. To some of us, this interrupts the flow of the music, the mood the composer has striven to create. However, the mood Udagawa strives to create in the hall is apparently one of informality and easeful enjoyment: there is no doubt, now in his fourth year, that he has achieved this.

The program opened with "Orchestral Overture" by Thomas Vignieri, a 40-year-old composer from Massachusetts, who wrote the piece as a tribute to his parents' generation. The orchestra nicely presented the simple, calm air of the music, held in an unswerving major tonality, the melody reminiscent of a hymn or a Copland-like folk tune; sweet, appealing, dreamy.

Dvorak's eighth symphony, a favorite of this writer, occupied the the last half of this ambitious program. Again, it was remarkable how Conductor Udagawa could coax such clean attacks and cutoffs, urge the inner voices to clarity, and hold the varied movements together effectively. The third movement, allegretto grazioso in three-quarter time, is the charmer, fetchingly lilting with an undercurrent of melancholy, and the musicians, here especially the strings, projected it persuasively.

Another full house for our symphony, another full evening of fine music right here in town.

April 6, 2001

This review was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on March 8, 2001 and is reprinted here with their permission.

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