Reviews ...

Marvelous marimba

... highlights symphony's "Spring Pops" concert

by Jackie Wattenberg

It was called a Pops Concert--but Saturday night's Melrose Symphony Orchestra reached up happily to classical composers and a worldwide successful marimbist--Eriko Daimo, who enthralled the audience. It was a remarkable pops!

Slender, pretty, at ease, Daimo darted swiftly back and forth above her long instrument to play an exciting percussive piece in shifting moods and modes by Kenji Kikuchi, a contemporary Japanese composer. Her strokes were fast sharp to project the music's dramatic start, and the orchestra hummed respectfully behind her. The next movement relaxed a little; in turn delicate, then leaping into action, then intense, and ending with bravura and color, which brought the full house to a cheering standing ovation. Surprisingly, the composer of this dashingly vibrant music was in the the audience, and was pointed to by Daimo.

We all sat down to welcome an encore, the Intermezzo from "Cavelleria Rusticana" by Mascagni. Here was a surprising contrast in Daimo's percussive instrument: she manages through controlled vibrations to sustain the enthralling melody and project its legato beauty--impressive and moving. No wonder she is a great success around the world!

Conductor Udagawa, now in his 14th year with the baton over our volunteer orchestra, continues to amaze. Since his bedeviling elevation of our symphony, we've wondered why the orchestra schedules just two classical programs and two pops. Perhaps such a modest schedule that was kind to the old struggling orchestra, but--oh, yes, Millie Rich learned that after Udagawa conquered our audiences, she need two evenings to accommodate the crowds!

But this Saturday evening it seemed that he brought us more classical works and presented them very effectively. He began with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, giving it exciting energy and an elegant English horn solo by Carl Schlaikjer.

In contrast, this was followed by a lovely, melancholy work by Gustav Holst, "Somerset Rhapsody," which brought a long, affecting oboe solo, this again by Mr. Schlaikjer, certainly a valuable member of this orchestra. Of very special interest was an original composition by Rob Bradshaw, "Schooner Adventurer," a delightful work beginning and ending with delicate chimes; lighthearted, then exclamatory, both traditionally and contemporary in mood. The composer was right there, and took a modest bow.

Not surprising on pops programs was Leroy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle." In this quick-moving one, the violins and violas kept admirable rapid pace under the conductor's unrelenting beat. What magic Udagawa has wrought with those strings!

After two intermissions we heard the rhythmically flowing music for the "Harry Potter" movies by John Anderson, suggesting some of the magical flights of that young international hero.  

The program ended with a well-defined, deeply resonant performance of Thchaikovsky's "Marche Slav," expressing its ponderous and dramatic intent. And then, as usual not on the program, the traditional "Stars and Stripes Forever!"

What a joy this season has been under the guidance of Youici Udagawa. Memorable is that he realized the potential of Melrose resident Richard Svoboda, a superb musician and principal bassoonist of the Boston Symphony, and commissioned that talented Melrose composer Michael Gondolfi to write a concerto for the bassoonist and his daughter, Erin, a fine young clarinetist and gifted flutist. This was a major musical event--right here in little Melrose!

What will next year bring? More musical energy, we're sure.


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