Reviews ...

Gospel singer captivates Melrose Symphony's 'Pops' audience

...the most joyful gala of the year!

by Jackie Wattenberg

You don't hear much about Gospel vocal stars here in Melrose, but at last Friday and Saturday evenings' Melrose Symphony Orchestra 'Holiday Pops' concerts, full house audiences went wild over Renese King, Gospel singer extraordinaire. The orchestra was in good form too, and we had the usual Christmas sing-along at each concert's end.

MSO Conductor Yoichi Udagawa donned two holiday silly hats--one with a white puff-ball that teetered mischievously, much to the audience's laughing delight, Yoichi is an undeniable showman!

But once Renese King took center stage the audience was amazingly ecstatic, with King receiving three or four standing ovations and thunderous clapping. Audience members also responded enthusiastically to her invitations to participate, showing their enjoyment of her style. A performer of varied talents who sings throughout New England, King has a voice of many colors--soft tones in her full range are clear and transparently focused, so lovely, in fact, that I wished that just once she would sing a Christmas carol traditionally.

Her "The First Noel," began that way, but soon curled into her variety of inventive twists and turns--into boisterous fortissimos and very high soprano pitches, exquisitely soft or piercingly strong. She talked to the audience and to Conductor Udagawa with a relaxed and warm manner, and affectingly described the lives of those who created "Negro spirituals," before singing a rousing rendition of "Go Tell it on the Mountain."

Shortly after her introductory numbers, she was joined by a small group of choir members who often work with her, adding more voices to some of the songs. She was also joined, with incredible enthusiasm, by the entire audience, except, of course, those who sought the traditional Christmas music interpretations. Often the volume rose to exciting climaxes, enthralling the audience; sometimes, however, the blasting from use of mikes or some element of the sound system blurred the effect into mere incoherent volume.

Adding to the vitality and color of the singer's performance were her regular "friends"--pianist, Dr. Dennis Slaughter; bassist, Kavan Wayne Pittman; and drummer, Joe Davis Jr.,

The orchestra brought the usual group of winter-Christmas-Hanukkah songs. They began with Leroy Anderson's "Christmas Festival" and "Song of the Bells"--with a lovely interlude of harp performed by Judy Ross, and flute performed by Earl Grant-Lawrence--and the beautiful "Fantasia on 'Greensleves'" by Vaughan Williams. There was fine energy in selections from Grieg's "Peer Gynt."

In the latter part of the program, "Sounds of Hanukkah" was performed in tribute to the Jewish holiday now being celebrated. Also, rarely neglected anywhere this season, my personal un-favorite Christmas song, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"-- but this time the arrangement was graceful and pretty anyway, and well played by our symphony. And for a bit of classical, the never-neglected tribute to the Jewish holiday now being celebrated, "Carmen" composer "Farandole" by Bizet, the composer who brought us "Carmen."

The concerts both nights climaxed with the traditional sing-along, and an unexpected reappearance briefly of star Renese King.

As customary, Memorial Hall looked festive--both nights the stage was decorated with the usual long red streaming ribbons, and great-lighted snowflakes, and every seat appeared in use, with table seating for those wishing to snack and drink during the concerts. These two 'Holiday Pops' concerts have grown into the most joyful gala of the year!

This article reprinted with permission from the Melrose Free Press, December 17, 2009

January 1, 2010

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