Reviews ...

Gospel singer dominates 'Holiday Pops'

... Bursts of applause for guest soloist Renese King's performance  

by Jackie Wattenberg

This article is reprinted by permission from the Melrose Free Press, December 16, 2010.

It's become tradition now: Melrose Symphony Orchestra Conductor Yoichi Udagawa's "Holiday Pops" concerts, on both Friday and Saturday nights, are sell-outs. Last weekend's performances of the MSO at Memorial Hall again highlighted guest soloist and gospel singer Renese King, who is becoming a sort of holiday tradition herself, and who wowed the audience.
There were the usual holiday light pieces, but this singer's colorful style and fantastic range of soprano tones brought constant excited whoops and applause for her Christmas carols.

This is rather amazing, since Melrose doesn't have aprominent gospel choir, and who would think that this style would so captivate our audiences? Her style is definitely gospel - soaring dramatically, blasting into harsh middle tones, rushing and improvising the melodies and thus distorting the composer's form - and doing all this with vocal ease and assurance. Also of interest, of course, is that our conductor himself has been a member of gospel choirs.

King started off with "Joy to the World," with Udagawa and his orchestra following her obediently, and the audience enchanted.
There's little doubt that King could succeed as a classical singer; beyond those belted-out chest tones, her soprano voice can soar brilliantly to high notes, either with opulent color or, even more enchantingly, with a crystal delicacy. She's an attractive woman, and of course enjoys an easy rapport with Udagawa.

At concert's end, Udagawa handed King his conductor's baton and walked offstage, leaving her to conduct an extra closing Christmas carol while he added some prankish side-stage wood-banging effects. While Udagawa has been deadly serious about improving the orchestra's quality, his silly Christmas hats and annual joke are by now eagerly awaited.

Some symphony enthusiasts do enjoy a few serious works along with the holiday mix. The three opening selections from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" seemed a lighthearted choice, and were nicely presented. Bach's "Little Suite," a more sedate and handsome work, was an interesting contrast, and the final section was especially impressive. Then capitulation into Christmas with one of the most charming carols of rather recent lineage - "The Little Drummer Boy." Next, almost a tradition now with the MSO, Leroy Anderson's frothy "Christmas Festival." The symphony has always acknowledged Hanukkah, the recently celebrated Jewish holiday. This has been frequently respected with the brightly arranged piece by Holcomb, "Sounds of Hanukkah," which was performed with admirable spirit. Maybe with a little research, further good music with Jewish relevance could be offered.

Of course we had "Winter Wonderland" and the Christmas Sing Along, which the audience did-with full volume. The evening's concert, vocal and instrumental, provoked many a whistle of enthusiasm and energetic applause. The orchestra was in good form, with frequent impressive solos by the brass and woodwinds.

Jessi Eisdorfer, now the MSO's general manager - the position held by now-retired Millie Rich for so many years - is a charming young woman who now speaks briefly to the audience before each concert's beginning. She must be elated with the orchestra's successes and the remarkable, transforming personality of conductor Yoichi Udagawa.

Melrose resident Jackie Wattenberg is the arts correspondent for the Melrose Free Press.

January 7, 2011

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