Several internationally prominent Czech and Slovak musicians came to Lisner Auditorium on Sunday evening for a decidedly eclectic concert, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the "velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia.
Iva Bittova--soprano, violinist, poet, actress, performance artist--was the charismatic central character who linked the others. Her compositions and improvisations blend traditional classical music with Gypsy and Moravian folk styles, all cooked together and made her own. It helps that she's got a star's appeal, moves with feline grace, has solid technique and genuinely musical impulses.
I suppose an American equivalent to Bittova would be Laurie Anderson, whose multidisciplinary shows are recognizably American in culture--the fascination with technology, the minimalism, the self-conscious, post-punk artsy quality. Bittova's performances are all acoustic and unprepossessing, music of the village made into avant-garde art.
She sang and played the violin alone and also improvised a while with Marian Varga, a Slovak jazz pianist whose status since the 1960s has grown to near-legendary: His music and nonconformist attitudes inspired many free-thinkers behind the Iron Curtain. After Bittova slipped offstage, Varga continued on, playing his own contrapuntal and spacious improvisations.
Bittova, as singer and composer, was joined by the excellent Skampa Quartet for her four-movement "Quatuor pour Cora," where her soprano acted as another instrument. It's a work they've recorded together on the Supraphon label, and it led the Kronos Quartet to commission a piece from her.
The show opened with the Skampa in a taut reading of Janacek's "Kreutzer Sonata" String Quartet; there's no group today I'd rather hear play this music.