Moravian Girl on the Town
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).