Reviews ...

Fine soprano charms

... at Holiday Pops show

by Jackie Wattenberg

We've come to accept the necessity of two Christmastime Pops concerts for our Melrose Symphony
Orchestra each year--who wants to miss Maestro Yoichi Udagawa's donning his silly red hat with
wandering pompom? Who would miss the chance to hear a symphony conductor tell a silly joke? And put
it over like Stephen Colbert?

This is why last Friday and Saturday nights were sold-out successes. And this year the orchestra
departed from the tradition of having a Pops guest performer, while bringing in a classical soprano
instead, a lovely young coloratura soprano, Kristen Watson. At first it was a bit startling to see
Mozart's "Alleluia" followed by a popular Christmas song, then another classical before another
light carol--but it worked! Because high soprano Watson was so charming and easeful in chatting
with Yoichi and singing both styles, classical and popular, that the audience was captivated.

It was delightful to hear her voice of waterfall clarity and assurance rising easily to Mozart's
demanding "Alleluia," then come over to "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." She accomplished this
without dipping down to lower tones usually heard in popular songs, and the audience was hushed in
appreciation and enjoyment.

Next came the even more demanding "Rejoice Greatly" by Handel, in which her coloratura took on that
trying tessitura with ease and beauty of tone. At one point in the endless fast runs, she actually
rose to a very high pitch--at least high C--and issued it in an exquisite pianissimo (very soft)
tone, not often heard even from famous coloraturas.

Her voice maintains its brightness in both styles, and she was undeterred by the firm tessitura.
One high tone was a bit strident, less open than others, but also exciting. A full page of her
engagements all over the map reflects her talent, of course, but her personality is an asset that
enchanted our audience of both serious and light-hearted listeners.

There was another soloist on the program--our symphony orchestra's top trumpeter, Randy O'Keefe, in
Anderson's "Trumpeter's Lullaby." Here was no trumpet blasting, but sensitive creating of the
serious, delicate mood, easeful tones in gradations of volume, softening to lovely tones that a
trumpet can create.

The program began with Strauss' "Overture to Die Fledermaus," in which the violins were admirably
strong. It seems appropriate to have Humperdinck's "Prelude to Hansel and Gretel" this season, and
it was well done. Then the familiar "A Christmas Festival: by Anderson, setting the stage for the
holiday season.

The closing section brought a piece by Schreiner titled "American December" that interestingly
merged Jewish and Christian themes.

A special bit of fun this season was a raffle for one person to lead the orchestra in the "Jingle
Bells" piece--won by Doreen Bibilos. She appeared before the orchestra, was handed the baton by
Yoichi, and shyly began conducting--but soon she raise both arms more commandingly, and the
audience cheered!

As usual, the Annual Holiday Pops program ended with the
Festival Sing Along," with the full house resounding eagerly.

Once more, a musical holiday gift from Yoichi Udagawa.

This article is reprinted by permission from the Melrose Free Press, December
15, 2011.

January 6, 2012

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