... a great MSO Pops
Some serious supporters of our Melrose Symphony may have thought that the Pops concert last Saturday evening wouldn't have the refined quality of their serious concerts. If so, they missed a superb saxophonist and some of the finest, most professional readings in our orchestra's history. Once again, Conductor Yoichi Udagawa has trumped himself.
The saxophone is not included in a traditional symphony orchestra, but it has a lush, brilliant smoothness that in the hands of a master like Kenneth Radnofsky can be spellbinding. In slow, languorous passages and rapid-fire arpeggios of Ibert's "Concertino da Camera" he lovingly projected the multitude of colors of his instrument. The moods, from bold and brash to richly romantic, were entrancing. A man of easy charm, he said he had a special relationship with composer Ibert -- pronouced "E-bear" -- since he knew his brother Ted (as in "Ted-E-bear)!
After the two-movement Ibert, he enchanted jazz aficionados by an intoxicating solo version of Gershwin's great "Fascinatin' Rhythm." And it was fascinating -- in his unpredictable vivace licks, whirls and twirls of brilliance in syncopated frenzy. A standing ovation, of course. Program notes cited his world premiere performance of Gunther Schuller's concerto for his instrument, which would be interesting to hear some time with our symphony. Schuller, you may recall, was our great conductor once last year.
Our eyes and ears were on the soloist, but there was no hesitancy in the orchestra's support of the evening's star performer.
A stunning, orchestral moment for me came after the second intermission with an arresting performance of Morton Gould's "American Suite." This delightful work was brought off with incisive attacks, a determined, driving beat from the conductor to which the players responded with taut intensity. The orchestra sound was consistently bright and alive with a unified wholeness and intent -- only a dynamic conductor could achieve this. His perceptive skills in working with our volunteer musicians have elevated our orchestra to a realm of accomplishment few of us could have hoped for before he took over nine years ago -- his 10-year celebration is this fall!
The program's opening was the Overture to Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," a playful work that was played with a nice lightness and grace, followed by "Jazz Pizzacato" by Leroy Anderson, almost always on our Pops programs, and lively under our conductor's open-styled approach to music.
This was our Pops, so Aaron Copeland's vigorous "Hoedown," presented vigorously, was welcome fare, our great all-American composer. Yoichi injected another promising young American composer, not in the program but a student member of the orchestra -- cellist Daniel Kurz, whose "Waltz" in a minor key was calm, reflective, original and quite lovely -- and well applauded by the audience. In college next fall, he will study math and composition.
I believe it was during the peppy "Washington Post March" by Sousa that our peppy conductor donned his silly hat with ears that clap so the audience could follow suit -- Melrose audiences just love to take part in orchestral hi-jinks! And our conductor has an unfailing sense of when and how to include our participation. The full house Saturday evening attested to the appreciation of his gifted and winning personality.
The season is over, alas, but we can anticipate another season of fine music, a little fun and outstanding soloists next fall with our ever-growing Melrose Symphony Orchestra.
Reprinted, with permission from the Melrose Free Press, May 10, 2007