Reviews ...

Schuller enthralls MSO audience

... another exiting cultural event for Melrose

by Jackie Wattenberg

Gunther Schuller in Melrose? Conducting our Melrose Symphony Orchestra?

Yes, this famed conductor-musician-composer-administrator led the Melrose Symphony Orchestra last Saturday night in Memorial Hall to -- what else? -- a full and demonstrably respectful house. Quite a coup, no doubt arranged by our own much-loved conductor, Yoichi Udagawa, who is so involved in Boston's musical life.

Tall, sturdy, white haired at 80, Maestro Schuller stood as a commanding presence over our musicians, as he has stood before many of the nation's great orchestras, bringing life to the programmed music -- Mozart, Bartok, Dvorak. Had there been jazz -- no problem; ragtime from early 20th century? No problem, for Schuller is a man for all seasons of music, American masters in popular as well as classical forms. Program notes cite his early composition of "Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee," the fanciful Swiss abstract painter admired in the first half of the last century -- what a charming idea for our symphony to think of performing this.

Also notable in Saturday's program was the young Romanian-born violinist Irina Muresanu in a captivating performance of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4, in D Major. A graduate of the New England Conservatory in 1999, she has been performing really broadly -- in Europe and across our country. She stands sans mannerism or swerving, playing with a lovely refined tone for Mozart, easing gracefully, sometimes reflectively, into the legato lines, and accomplishing tricky runs with a flourish that often ended in marvelously bright high notes. With the orchestra resting, she executed cadenzas with exquisite trills, amber rich double stops and unhesitating technical bravura.

Here is a promising young artist. She played a fine-toned Joseph Rocca violin, dated 1856.

Conductor Schuller began the program with a set of Romanian Dances by Bela Bartok. Bartok gathered thousands of folk dances from his native Romania, six of them here realized in his loving style. Composed when he was just 35, they are charming, melodious and with little undercurrent of the daring dissonances he developed with his own mark of exciting originality. Barbara Clement's piccolo was bright and mood-entrancing here.

Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G Major, followed intermission, a colorful, mood-shifting work with bright and somber contrasts. To me there is nothing in the world of music more profound and moving than Dvorak's chamber works and his cello concerto, and his songs are also enchanting. His larger symphonies lack the grand sweep and power of Brahms or Beethoven, or the later Mahler. This is, of course, merely personal.

Of his symphonies, this is my favorite because of the entrancing melody that opens the third movement, a sort of waltz that Gunther Schuller brought us in rich appreciation of its charm and rippling movement. Though in 3/8 time, Schuller's beat was less a standard three-part beat, but one flowing sweep of his arm to keep the loving melody flowing. In a brief conversation after the concert, he noted that this section was "in G minor, yet it is such a happy melody. Flow is the important thing," he said, of which he is the master.

The whole work flowed colorfully, dramatically, with an energy that was very much alive. And our orchestra, as if inspired by the famed conductor, rose to the challenge. Udagawa had rehearsed the players and Schuller came twice to work with them.

John Ranck's flute sailed beautifully frequently here, recalling the birdsong of the Czech countryside. Concertmaster Judy Takata was prominent for several beautifully done solo parts during the evening; tuba player Rob Orr too.

This was another exciting cultural event for Melrose, and the several standing ovations by the large audience made this evident to the guest conductor, the violinist and the MSO.

This article is reprinted, with permission from the Melrose Free Press - March 8, 2006.

April 7, 2006

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