... Spring Pops Night has become a tradition in Melrose ...
Jackie Wattenberg's moving critique of the Melrose Symphony Orchestra's traditional Pops Concert, held at Memorial Hall in early May, first appeared in the local newspaper, the Melrose Free Press. Ms. Wattenberg is also a member of the SilverStringers and a staff writer for the internet's Melrose Mirror.
Spring Pops Night with the Melrose Symphony Orchestra has become "Fun Night" -- thanks to the dynamic conductor Yoichi Udagawa.
He has turned the volunteer orchestra into a force to be reckoned with and enjoyed, and has added his own joie de vivre and humor to the sound of music. And the audience is enthralled.
Saturday evening in Memorial Hall he conducted the audience with fine-tuned direction and the full house responded superbly. His command and example brought forth sforzando clapping, fortissimo and up to tempo that Sousa would have appreciated. Then he bowed a bit with hands barely touching and the listenders segued to a gradual diminuendo, only at his urging returning to a "giocoso" spirit of clapping once more. A touch of staccato laughing and percussive foot stomping added rhythmic emphasis to the score.
Oh yes, the orchestra performed as well as the audience. And though this was an evening of Classical Lite, it was all good light music, commendably offered to the sold-out house of tables and permanent seats. John Williams, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Gershwin's "Rhapsdy in Blue" with a talented young pianist were all welcomed, as were remarks from the conductor between selections.
As usual, Udagawa began with a spirited national anthem, richly joined by the eager audience, a woman close by soaring well over the chorus and instruments, with a slight German accent. Then the busy-proceeding "Merry Wives of Windsor" overture by Niccolai, played with careful attention in the inner voices and graceful themes.
Udagawa announced that the next work was composed by "my favorite composer -- it better be -- because I am married to her. If we play any wrong notes, I may have to sleep on the couch." "Roman for Orchestra" by Alice Pertchik turned out to be a pleasing work of simple repeated themes, interesting development and an air of serenity.
After conducting it, Udagawa turned to the audience and asked, "Do you think I'll have to sleep on the couch?" "No, no," the people assured him. And the composer herself came onstage briefly for a bow, gesturing her gratitude to the orchestra. The conductor looked relieved.
Borodin's striking "On the Steppes of Central Asia" was given a strong, impressive reading, followed by Tchaikovsky's waltz from his "Sleeping Beauty" suite, realizing its lilting grace and charm.
The young Korean pianist Jeoung-Hye Han invested Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with a great deal of excitement and energy, dashing off challenging lines with terrific speed and fortissimo accuracy, which drew the listeners to a resounding standing ovation. Gershwin was an orignal, bringing in jazz and his own daring, unpredictable harmonies to the classical orchestra. He played this work at a fast clip.
But in Gershwin, there's an intoxicating sense of insinuating, a hesitancy here and an urgency there, as in jazz songs, a heady mixture of romance and impertinence that is best revealed in an easy rhythmic flow. Leonard Bernstein felt that Gershwin had taken the Rhapsody too fast, because Gershwin "could hear the sounds faster than most people could, so fast we couldn't hear those beautiful harmonic changes." Bernstein took it more slowly.
The young pianist, studying at the Longy School with Randall Hodgkinson, is entitled, like any performer, to her own interpretation. Her pyrotechnics were impressive; but even when percussive, Gershwin in persuasive, subtle and rhythmically definitely Gershwin.
The concert closed with John Williams' melodious score for the movie "E.T.," Sousa marches and the Armd Forces Salute, during which, as Udagawa invited them, veterans of one of the different services stood.
Melrose looks forward to next season's music and unpredictable fun with Conductor Udagawa.
May 15, 2001
This review was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on Thursday, May 10, 2001 and is reprinted here with their permission.