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Concert Review: weather overshadows another wonderful MacKay concert

By Alex Binkley on January 25, 2019

The organizers of the MacKay United Church Chamber Concert Series could be excused for intently watching weather forecasts whenever one of their concerts draws close.

The event last September 21 was the day tornadoes swept through the Ottawa region while the Autumn Rhapsody concert was on. Other than the wind blowing around the building, there was no sign in the New Edinburgh area of the damage done elsewhere but the heavy rain and heavy clouds shrunk the attendance.

On Sunday January 20, violinist Emily Westell and pianist Roger Feria Jr. performed for a much smaller than usual crowd because of heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures.

The next event is February 9 with the Silflay String Quartet, which usually is usually a good draw.

The January concert was entitled A Fantasy of St Petersburg, music inspired by Chagall, the Russian-born impressionist painter who was also created book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints.

It was this range of talent that Westell and Feria wanted to highlight with selections from composers Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. The performers selected copies of Chagall’s paintings including Blue Circus and I and the Village that were displayed on a screen at the front of the church during the concert.

Westell and Feria are a good duet, playing music they appear well acquainted with and thoroughly enjoy. Their performance resonated with the audience who saluted them with boisterous applause.

Westell and Feria went to the Chagall exhibition last year at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal as part of the preparation for the concert.

They chose the four composers because they created music during the artist’s lifetime and all five had a connection to St. Petersburg.

The program notes for the concert point out that “Chagall made costumes and backdrops for Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet while Shostakovich’s Preludes characterize the vibrant colours, dance-like themes and dream-like imagery of Chagall’s paintings. Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev built their music on Russian folk music and stories, which are central to Chagall’s works.”

Westell and Feria are a good duet, playing music they appear well acquainted with and thoroughly enjoy. Their performance resonated with the audience who saluted them with boisterous applause.

Just as the images in Chagall’s paintings are supposed to make you think about what they represent, the music that evening intrigued the listener. You could listen to it with complete enjoyment while it triggered all sorts of thoughts.

Westell has won several music prizes and been featured on CBC and Radio-Canada. She holds a Doctor of Music degree from McGill University where she was an instructor of violin and chamber music and recently completed post-doctoral studies with Pinchas Zukerman.

Feria has a doctorate of music from McGill and a Master of Music in Composition from the University of Calgary. He has won various musical awards, taught music and performed internationally.