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By Rhonda Spivak

The prize winning Aviv String Quartet [Aviv Quartet], consisting of Sergey Ostrovsky and Evgenia Epshtein, violins, Vadim Makhovsky, viola, and Canadian Rachel Mercer, cello, delivered an absolutely first-rate performance at the Berney Theatre on Nov 28th as part of the Richardson GMP Israeli Concert Series.

Mercer, who was born in Edmonton, and is of Jewish and Japanese ancestry, has been notably recognized by the Canada Council for the Arts recently. Through a competition, she won the three-year use of a circa 1696 Bonjour Antonio Stradivarius cello valued at $8 million.

The gleaming, polished cello, has clearly found a very good home in the extraordinarily talented Mercer, who played it masterfully.

A smiling Ostrovsky, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, after the show that “The  cello got its own seat on the plane right next to Mercer, who took care of it all the time…but it didn’t get a meal on the flight.”

The Aviv Quartet , which has won first prize in chamber  music competitions in Australia, France, Netherlands, and Austria, was founded in 1996 in Israel. Today, all four of  the  Aviv Quartet’s members live in different parts of the globe: Ostrovsky in Geneva, Epshtein in Israel, Vadim Makhovskiy  in Munich,  and Mercer in Toronto.

In an interview, Mercer, whose grandmother was born in Israel and  has “lots of cousins there,” said “The four of us [ the Quartet] play together for 6-7 months of the year, when we are touring together.”

Not only is each member of the Aviv Quartet a top notch musician, together they make a  robust and splendid team. They played with youthful enthusiasm and energy, impressive technical skill and grace. Watching the heads of these four very talented musicians bobbing up and down together in unison, as they flawlessly performed rich melodies, was at times spellbinding.

In an interview, The thirty-four year old First Violinist, Ostrovsky, who moved to Israel at age sixteen said he began playing the violin by age six.

“I came from a musical family.  We lived in Gorkey, in the former Soviet Union. My father was a concert pianist as was my mother. My father performed all the time, and was a great inspiration. My sister, who now lives in Boston is a professional pianist and my brother in Israel is also professional pianist,” he said.
The Aviv Quartet played Shubert’s Quartetstatz, Haydn’s Emporer, Dvorak’s American Quartet, and a movement  of a quartet by  Israeli composer Uri Brenner.

“Brenner, our good friend, composed this music especially for us,” said Ostrovsky, who has won first prize in the Israeli Violin Competition.

Violist Vadim Makhovskiy's melodic flare and old world presence was evident  particularly while  performing Dvorak’s work.  Makhovsky, who was born in  Russia, performs with the Symphony of the Americas.

Ephstein, a co-founder of the Quartet, who delivered a sterling performance, also began playing  the violin at age six.  She received a Msaster’s degree at the Rottwerdam Royal Academy where she obtained prizes in violin and chamber music competitions.

“When I am not performing, I sometimes teach violin a little in the summer,” Ephstein, who lives in Lod said.

In an encore, the Aviv Quartet performed an exquisite rendition of  “Eli Eli”, a poem written by Hannah Senesh, and  a light-hearted  rendition of “Shirim  Pshootim” (Simple Songs).  Ostrovsky told the capacity crowd that “My dear friend Arieh Schechter of the Seattle Symphony did the arrangement for these songs.”

During ‘Shirim Pshootim,”  the faces of both musicians and audience members were lit up with grins, smirks, and smiles, ending the concert on an exultant note.

After the impressive performance, Ostrovsky said that the Aviv Quartet, which has a repertoire of over one hundred chamber works, is “working on a new CD [on the Nexus label] that will be out this April.”

In the new CD, the Quartet will be rediscovering and championing the music of  Jewish composer Irwin Shulhoff.

“ Schulhoff died in a concentration camp [during the Holocaust] at age fourty four, after the Nazis overran Czechoslovakia. He was not able fulfill his potential.”

Additionally, the Quartet will be recording the music of Erno Dohnanyi  from Hungary.

“He wasn’t Jewish but he received an award from the State of Israel for saving Jews during the Holocaust.  He composed a lot of pieces,” said Ostrovsky.

One of  Dohnanyi’s son’s was executed by the Nazis for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Prior to performing in Winnipeg, the accomplished Aviv Quartet performed in Mexico, and San Diego.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.