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Concert review: Jana Stuart at MacKay United Church

By Alex Binkley on March 11, 2017

I’d never heard of pianist Jana Stuart before her March 3 concert at MacKay United Church. Now I would look forward to attending another performance by her.

Stuart mixed movie scores and a few classical favourites into her concert
entitled La valse d’Amélie. While her selection of music for the evening was marvelous, what’s most remarkable is how she begins each piece with a style that draws the listener into the piece, not unlike an intriguing opening to a good story.

Her forte is playing the composition her own way, applying her own take to it.

Stuart says she aims for “a freer, greater dynamic range, rubato, unpredictable dynamics – my signature and my self-expression and lots of drama.”

The first half of the concert featured the movie scores. While I’ve not viewed any of them, there was a familiar sound to the music like something I’ve heard before but didn’t know what it was from.

She featured two compositions of French composer Yann Tiersen – La chute and music from the romantic comedy movie Amélie. Her other opening pieces were Ludovico Einaudi’s Fly from the 2011 hit French film Les Intouchables and the haunting music from The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, a film scored by American composer Paul Cantelon.

She opened the second half with five pieces from Tiersen’s score for the 2003 movie Goodbye Lenin, a tragi-comedy set in Germany as the wall between West and East Germany came down.

The rest of the second half of her performance included Frédéric Chopin’s
Nocturne in B flat minor Op 9 No.1, a marvellous rendition of Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune and three preludes by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

She was finally coaxed into an encore by an audience determined to hear some more of her style and she responded with American composer Philip Glass. Stuart isn’t shy about interpreting the music of top-notch composers her own way. They would probably be impressed.

In all she played for about two hours without any sheet music to refer to. Talk about knowing your stuff.

Stuart studied at McGill and Concordia and in Europe, New York and Israel. She was an artist in residence at the Banff Arts Centre in the winter of 2015.

While I wait for her next concert – she said would be back in Ottawa – I can listen to some fine performances of hers on YouTube. I encourage you to check Stuart out.