November 2007

Iva Bittová
presented by Gary Topp
November 5, 2007 The Music Gallery Toronto
Soothing the restless soul
by Tom Sekowski
It was with weary optimism that I approached the Music Gallery that windy, rainy, utterly cold evening. It’s been years (more than a decade actually) since I’ve last seen Czech music chanteuse / violin player Iva Bittová in a live setting. Back then, I recall her playing was so effective and her chants were so full of micro-tonal drones, I fell asleep midway through the concert, just as she was passing in the proximity of my seat. Could she duplicate that feat this time around? Would she be able to gather all that might and soothe me back to sleep? Would her violin playing be as subtle as it was back then?
The church was packed and the concert started without a minute’s delay. With no support act, the audience was able to put all their efforts into Bittová herself. A solo gig is a challenging one, especially for the lonely performer, who is standing at the altar, in the midst of the crowd, with all eyes centered square, and all minds drilling critically and judging every single move and breath. To her credit, Bittová was able to pull the show off without a hint of a hiccup. With a variety of folk, Slavic, Gypsy and Yiddish songs, she was in a constant state of flux. In between the classical pieces, she would sing melodies that resembled those that originated in the steppes (Sainkho Namchylak came to mind, though sad to say Bittová is somewhat lacking in the vocal range category) even though the Czech Republic is quite a distance from the steppes. Striking the bow on her violin with melodic fury, she would play lovely passages, followed by moments of pure, improbable improvisation. When this was over, she would sing a cappella for a tune or two. She mentioned some of the authors of the songs and explained that “unfortunately it was difficult for me to translate the lyrics into English”. Honestly, it didn’t matter as the tunes could’ve been about a guy-meets-girl scenario or nuclear blasts — through her unique interpretations, everything found its meaning.
Iva Bittová

One of the songs heard near the end of the programme was one originating in the Auschwitz concentration camp. With a ton of emotive force, at certain times, Bittová boldly walked into the audience to confront the people who were so fiercely scrutinizing her. During key times, she played in total darkness, preferring the audience to pay attention solely to the music, instead of to her dark curls swirling madly around the stage.

On her website, Bittová explains, “The violin is one of the finest musical instruments. It shapes and transforms me, awakens my feelings and emotions, it fulfils me in the aesthetic sense of the word, and illustrates the highest values in my attitudes to music, to other people, and to myself. That is why I love the violin — and to love means to live!” It was her love and sheer excitement for life and the need to share her innermost experiences along with her cultural surroundings that kept me wide awake while the winds were howling outside on that cold November night.

> www.bittova.com <
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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