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Moravian Girl on the Town


Wow, I'm so behind in blogging. My goodness. Last Sunday (Nov. 20) I went to a concert by Iva Bittová in the Besední dům ("Gathering house"), the home of the Brno State Philharmonic. Bittová is one of the premiere international performing musicians in the Czech Republic today, and she is one of those performers who likes to be "outside the box." While it would be possible to characterize her performances as merely "serious" (in Czech, vážná hudba ["serious music"] usually covers what is loosely described as "classical music" in American English), she is often inspired by folkloric sources (her father was a famous fiddler in Brno) and popular music (she has claimed in interviews to like house music). Of course, she likes it that way. She infamously rejected a prize from the Academy of Popular Music because, as she told one reviewer, they like to label creative people and throw them into one bag (interview with Ondřej Bezr in Pětadvacet [rozhovory s ceskými muzikanty] [Brno: Petrov, 2004], p. 190). Bittová is often compared to Meredith Monk or Björk (among others). I came away with an impression of a more Laurie Anderson-like performer but with Bobbie McFerrin's vocal talents and sense of humor. Almost every English-language article about Bittová mention her Moravian roots which, by implication and in a vein very intriguing to my research, are taken to be a major source of her musicality. What these roots do mean I have yet to figure out. (You'll have to read the dissertation to find out...)

Though Bittová was the headline act at the concert, she was accompanied by the Škampa string quartet. The quartet was an integral part of the performance, they even sang and danced at various points throughout the performance. Janáček's Moravská lidová poezie v písních [Moravian folk poetry in songs], originally arranged around 1908, was the heart of the concert. The arrangement for voice and string quartet, done by Vladimír Godár, was recorded by Bittová with the Škampa quartet last year on Supraphon Records. Because this is a rather long work (over fifty short songs) it was split into two parts, and about half of these songs began each half of the concert. The end of the first half was (presumably) a solo improvisation by Bittová with voice and violin. Though known mostly for singing, she is very talented violinist. The improvisational section of the performance really let Bittová's love for sound as a medium of independent expressionshow through. One of the special characteristics of Bittová's performance style that also showed through here was her sense of humor and playfulness, elements that often do not come through in improvised music. The second half, after Janáček, was filled out by Bittová's Quator pour Cora. This piece requires "extended techniques" from the quartet, including foot stomping, vocalizing, and clapping. Encores included an arrangment of a lullaby on a text by J. A. Komenský (I think) and another solo song by Bittová.

The performance quality was great overall, but marred by faulty sound equipment in the second half. Some sort of buzz or feedback on the speakers was enough to distract the performances at the end of the Janáček so much that Bittová missed her final entrance. They did recover, however, and the ending was fairly solid despite the loss of concentration. The lack of program also left the audience confused - when to clap? what were they playing? is it intermission yet? This resulted in all the pieces being interrupted by applause, which I do not consider a horrible faux pas, but often it was obvious from the performers' body language that the applause was not at an appropriate time. This was particularly evident in the Quator, but this is partly due to its strange balance (the last movement is the same length as the first three combined, and the third movement is very energetic which gives the impression that the piece were over).

Bittová has just released a CD with the Bang on a Can All Stars, a spinoff from the New York-based Bang on a Can performance collective. It sounds very fresh and showcases Bittová's compositional talents. You can read a review of the CD here (New York Magazine Online) or find a variety of other responses from her website, www.bittova.com (linked above).

Comments:

Blogger Karla said . . .

Thanks for putting the link to her site, when I tried it a week ago it just wouldn't load so I didn't list it. But I haven't figured out which section the stores keep her CDs in. This seems to be a problem with Czech stuff. After I gave you the saxophone CD last year I wanted to get a few more copies for other friends but couldn't find it anywhere, although you would think in the Czech or Czech jazz sections.    

10:34 AM, November 30, 2005


Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

I always have trouble with categories at the store, too. It's an especial problem in grocery stores for me, but CD stores are also difficult. I've found her CDs in the classical section. The Janacek CD was kept with other CDs of Janacek, but I suspect that her CD "Classic" (also Supraphon) would be under B (if it's not out of print). Indies Records (www.indiesrec.cz) have released some of her other CDs, and they have stores in most Czech cities. I would look for their Prague outlet(s). Try under 'folk' or 'world' or 'folklor', or just ask the clerks. They all speak English at the Brno Indies store.    

11:06 PM, November 30, 2005


Blogger Karla said . . .

I found some at Bonton yesterday. The reason I didn't last time I looked there was that her name card was hidden (and there weren't any CDs behind it on that row) and the CD in front had no identifying label on its entire front side.

As for categories, I think I told you how every department there sent me to a different part of the store to look for Ježek.    

5:56 PM, December 01, 2005


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