Reviews ...

Melrose composer, performers triumph at Melrose Symphony Orchestra

... A night to remember

by Jackie Wattenberg

It was a night to remember, to exult in the musical treasures we have here in this little city--superb talents of a native Melrose composer, a Melrose father-daughter bassoonist and clarinetist; and a conductor who brought all of this together for our Melrose Symphony Orchestra.

Michael Gandolfi, born in Melrose and now just in his 50s, is gaining prominence around the country for his striking compositions, while Melrose resident Richard Svoboda, the superb principal bassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has lived here for 19 years and his daughter Erin studied clarinet and played here in her talented teens.

With a great musician like Richard Svoboda down the street and a real live composer within reach, apparently MSO conductor Yoichi Udagawa saw the chance for a musical coup and commissioned this work, with the added talent of Erin Svoboda's clarinet for an unusual tonal mix. It was indeed a coup to remember.

Gandolfi is a composer of today, but his identity is a bit hard to pin down. He is obviously not in pursuit of Shostakovich or Mahler, certainly--luckily!--nor of John Adams, but perhaps a touch of Samuel Barber. From the first chords, though, I found this work original and fascinating. The overall tone was an alluring freshness, a little atonal at times, with unexpected mood changes and often softening to an air of lovely tranquility. A sense of chorales, cited in the pre-concert discussion, could have been the weaving of delicate strings that sounded almost like pianissimo singers, unusual and captivating.

The bassoon creates a marvelous sound almost like the euphoric swell of a great cloud, smooth and, in Richard Svoboda's hands, beautifully contoured and sensitively shaded in dynamics. Gandolfi was aware of this quality and constructed his concerto with appreciation of the instrument's power. There hasn't been much chance for bassoon to be combined with clarinet, but here everyone seemed to find it interesting and enjoyable. Lovely young Erin Svoboda has a firm command of her instrument, technically and interpretively. She could deftly direct her quick steps toward her father's more solemn facade, or turn seriously to more poetic legato phrases. Somewhere in the middle of the concerto, bassoon and clarinet joined in a duet that was moving in its distinctive plaintive mood.

New music and two guest artists drew attention from the orchestra, which held all of this together under the unflagging hands of conductor Udagawa. Certainly he had worked assiduously to interpret the composer's intent and support the soloists. The whole performance accomplished a marvelous totality in composition, performers and orchestra. The many persons sitting around me were all enthusiastic about this new work and right here in our own city!

As so often happens, the concert began with a von Suppe overture, an energetic start. And it closed with Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony, the "Little Russian." This one came before Tchaikovsky developed his talent for creating long and appealing melodies for his Symphonies 4, 5 and 6, which were so appealing that they were sometimes used as themes for soap operas! This earlier work is lively and full of short Russian themes tossed around between sections, and the orchestra gave it is due. But in effect it becomes boring and repetitive. If anything, it made Gandolfi's concerto seem so much more interesting and inspired!

It's noteworthy that another Svoboda musician was also on stage Saturday evening--high school student, Emma Svoboda, plays cello in the MSO. In the audience was daughter Marie, who plays piano and violin. And of course, wife Elizabeth Foulser, who plays double bass all around New England. So, Gandolfi has three more concertos to think about!

Although Svoboda is now in good health, he broke his wrist in a fall on the ice early this winter and is just returning to his position as principal bassoonist in the Boston Symphony after a two-month absence.

We can appreciate his work in preparing for this premiere performance with a wrist not wholly repaired. No doubt he, and all of us, are relieved to see the snow and ice almost melted away!

This article is reprinted by permission from the Melrose Free Press, March 17, 2011.

April 1, 2011

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