Violinist conquers Melrose Symphony audience

 ... Lucia Lin and Yoichi Udagawa provide a glorious evening of music

Jackie Wattenberg

Yoichi Udagawa brought his Melrose Symphony Orchestra to a triumphant season finale last Saturday evening with a New England violinist, Lucia Lin, playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Her artistry and full command of the challenging score brought the audience swiftly to its feet for a standing ovation and calls of "Brava."

But bravos also to Maestro Udagawa, who, through his talents in improving the orchestra's quality as well as his personal magnetism and humor, have expanded this town's musical appreciation. For that night's "Spring Pops," it seemed that the throngs would never cease streaming in, well after 8 p.m., hoping for seats -- there were none. So extra chairs and small tables had to be brought in for the overflow.

If the dynamic conductor, a legend in his own time, keeps on expanding his audiences here, Symphony President Millie Rich will have to expand Memorial Hall. Saturday night's program may have been termed a "Pops," but besides the violin soloist, he offered us Stravinsky, Berlioz and Copland. In the final segment, he brought lighter fare, ending with a patriotic sing-along -- and it sounded as if no one hesitated to indeed "sing along." How could anyone not be infected with the spirit of the evening when the conductor donned his sparkling red-white-and blue-high hat?

Lucia Lin played Mendelssohn's grand concerto at the age of 11, not with a small college orchestra, but the prestigious Chicago Symphony, one of the nation's greatest. Now a musician with many concerts and recitals behind her, she performs with unhesitating assurance and musicality, realizing all the nuances of the richly melodious score, at times with a warm and winning light vibrato that is distinctive. Her technique in the liveliest passages is of course unflinching, her high register certain and bright; her double stopping in the second movement was impressive, and the solo cadenza, whether hers or totally the composer's, was compelling in its development. (Another talent perhaps worthy of mention is her mastery of fly fishing, as noted in a recent fishing magazine!)

Lin stood on stage in a modest beige tunic and dark pants. The question of "Could she be pregnant?" was answered by the conductor who announced after her performance that she was indeed expecting a baby, and her husband was in the audience. He then called on her husband, Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart, to stand: he rose from his table rear of the stage to a hearty round of applause. He was besieged by admirers at program's end, congenially signing autographs.

Another highlight of the evening was a fine rendition of sections from Stravinsky's "The Firebird," with an excellent French horn by Lisa Peterson (or do we now call it a "Freedom horn?"). Carl Schlaikjer provided another outstanding solo, his lyrically flowing English horn thence in Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture. The "Hoedown" from Copland's ballet music, "Rodeo," was prefaced by the Conductor's citing his early life in Texas, "So I brought along my Stetson." Much laughter as he donned his big black cowboy hat for this piece, presented with great pep and rhythmic energy. "Waltzing Cat" by last century's Leroy Anderson was charming, with readily identifiable "meows" from the violins and finally, at the conductor's urging, dandy dog barking from the audience as well as the musicians.

This review was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on May 8, 2003, and is reprinted here with their permission.

June 6, 2003

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