Reviews ...

Happy welcome for Yoichi, MSO musicians

... with Brahms and incredibly, Stravinsky

Jackie Wattenberg

Article reprinted by permission of Melrose Free Press, November 11, 2010.

Yes, cold winds are returning to Melrose, but after a six-month vacation so is our season of great music with Yoichi Udagawa and his gallant Melrose Symphony Orchestra. Only Yoichi could have filled Memorial Hall for its opening concert last Saturday night with a performance of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." And a stunning performance it was. It seemed certain that Yoichi had not only prepared his musicians well, but had convinced them of the work's special merit.

There was also a beautiful presentation of Brahms' Double Concerto for violin and cello with Lucia Lin, violinist, and Owen Young, cellist. Both have been active soloists all around the country, with chamber groups and major symphony orchestras. Brahms has not been very prominent with major orchestras recently, so this handsome work, one of very few major works for these two instruments together, was a pleasure to hear again. The late Isaac Stern was fond of this concerto and recorded it with cellist Leonard Rose, and more reently with our own Yo-Yo Ma.

Each movement of the Brahms piece is rather long and fully developed, so after each movement, unfortunately, the audience applauded, disturbing the music's flow. (A good test: if our conductor's back is toward us, hold off clapping.) But the soloists seemed unperturbed; Lin, simply dressed and unpretentious in manner, brought out the plaintive, emotional themes with brilliant, far-reaching clarity and sense of drama, and Young issued the rich cello tones with a distinctive warmth and sensitivity.

Maestro Udagawa held a fine balance with the orchestra, essential with the cello--an instrument with a rich depth of tone but not great power--which is sometimes not realized by chamber groups who tuck their cellist in the rear of their grouping. Brahms was aware of the matched powers of his solo musicians, and offered them both passages with suitable support of the orchestra. Both orchestra and soloists projected an appreciation of Brahms; special sense of sweeping drama, lyricism and gentle warmth.

Yoichi was perhaps wise to schedule intermission after the stunning Stravinsky--the audience and orchestra had a chance to recover from the anxiety, fervor and harmonic audacity of the Stravinsky. But the performance was a stunner. Wisely, the conductor first softened the impact of Stravinsky by charmingly, bit by bit, relating how the music's drama unfolds, with orchestral interludes preparing us for its full impact. Yoichi had clearly worked devotedly with his players, and they played at their best. Attacks by the high strings were strong and well defined, the many solo parts elegantly played so that the drama, contrasting moods of anger, fear and love, were dramatically projected. Very possibly, some in the audience were shorn of their hostile feeling for Stravinsky.

Of course this was not the more startling "Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky, which, at its premiere performance in Paris, so shocked and appalled the audience that they fled riotously from the hall to escape it!

The MSO program began with Beethoven's Egmont Overture, a bright and lively beginning for the first concert of our season. Next for the symphony are the two popular holiday Pops concerts, on Friday, December 10 and Saturday, December 11. There are two separate performances for these well-attended concerts, since our conductor projects such a winning personality of fun, jokes and talent--one evening of holiday celebration is not enough.

Both on stage before the concert and in the concert's program, Millie Rich, renowned for 30 years as the MSO's general manager, defender and guiding light, was cited for her devotion to our orchestra. More than once on stage before the music began, she had claimed, "Yoichi Udagawa is the best thing that has ever happened to the Melrose Symphony!" She is now living in Florida with her husband.

December 3, 2010

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