Reviews ...

Dazzling pianist in Milano concert

... to honor the memory of long-time Melrose Mayor Jim Milano


Maestro Yoichi Udagawa really knows how to plan a successful concert for our enthusiastic Melrose music lovers. Saturday night he began with the Overture to "Don Giovanni" by Mozart, acknowledging our early music devotees; then Grieg's ever-popular A minor piano concerto with a brilliant pianist--Jonathan Bass, winding up with Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3, also called "The Organ Symphony."

Something for everybody here, but special planning to honor the memory of long-time Melrose Mayor Jim Milano--mayor from 1972 to 1992-- who played both piano and organ, both featured on Saturday's program.

The evening began with a few relaxed, warm-hearted words of Mayor Rob Dolan, recalling the day he anxiously phoned retired Mayor Milano, very ill in the hospital. He wasn't sure that Mr. Milano would be able to talk to him--but on he came with agitated vigor! "Listen! Be sure to get me tickets for the Holiday Pops Concert--I don't want to miss that!"

He didn't. Mayor Dolan recalled that he often found the old mayor in Memorial Hall by himself, playing the organ.

The Grieg Piano Concerto is one of the most popular concertos for its lilting themes, exciting arpeggios and runs that were dashed off brilliantly by Jonathan Bass. Written by Grieg when he was just 25, it seems to have an almost youthful euphoria in the lovely romantic themes, spun out joyously by the pianist.

But the audience was stunned to rapt silence at his masterly execution of the rapid-fire leaps up and down the keyboard, always with unwavering dexterity and energy, as well as tonal quality variations. Simply put, exciting!

Yoichi and his orchestra brought out the composer's romantic charm and responded with eager support to the pianist's varied tempi and moods, with notable solos that included flutist John Ranck and bassoonist Shu Satoh.

The performance was so exciting that the audience was impelled to applaud after the first movement, again after the second--but then Yoichi kept going because the third movement comes close upon the second.

A standing ovation of course followed.

Our audiences are nothing if not enthusiastic! A surprise when the pianist, after applause for the concerto, sat down again at the piano to play a Chopin waltz! On Saturday night, only a couple of coughers!

After intermission, one major work not frequently performed, and especially appropriate for this concert--The Symphony in C Minor by Saint-Saens, known as "The Organ Symphony." The organ, played here by David Tierney, is not given solo passages as would be found in a concerto, but is heard here and there throughout the full two movements--two instead of the usual four, but with a comparable length.

What a tribute to Yoichi Udagawa that he has brought this volunteer orchestra to such a level of performance!

David Tierney's organ tones were surprising, not typical in a symphony, but a new brightness of color when detected, and it was often emphasized.

The orchestra responded as always to the conductor's urging of diminished tones or heightened excitement, so the beauty of Saint-Saens, not the most celebrated, was realized. And eagerly applauded.

As the fine program notes tell us, Saint-Saens lived a long life, 1835 to 1921, a witness to vast changes in the musical world, from Schumann to Stravinsky and Gershwin.

Just one more exciting night in the Symphony here in Melrose.

How many other towns can say that?

Reprinted, with permission from the Melrose Free Press, March 7, 2013

April 5, 2013

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