Iva Bittová: Music is Our "Bread and Water of Life"

Iva Bittová, photo: Claire Stefani, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

At a time when concert halls have fallen silent, and society is struggling to deal with the coronavirus crisis, music is becoming even more important and many singers and artists are going online to give the public new strength, faith and hope. In the second part of a series of interviews with Czech artists living in the United States, titled Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps, the Czech Centre in New York features Czech musicians in the Big Apple. Marek Milde spoke to musician Iva Bittová about what music means to her and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected her life and work.

Iva Bittová,  photo: Claire Stefani,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

How has the current situation with the coronavirus affected your life?

Illustrative photo: Kevin Yank,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC 2.0

“Interestingly, at the end of 2019, I first discovered Corona beer. It was the only slightly alcoholic beverage I drank at the pre-Christmas party, because with the start of the New Year 2020 began my period of total abstinence. After a year and a half in the countryside in Upstate New York, this March was full of preparations and expectations for my planned year-long European concert tour, which in a few days suddenly turned into an unrealized dream. Interestingly enough, this situation has not caused me disappointment. Rather, I accepted it as a challenge to think and create completely new values.”

At the moment, you cannot play and sing publicly, which must be very hard. How do you deal with it? Where do you find the energy to create?

“In silence and nature, I listen to inner voices and wait for new signals. There are many of these thoughts and they are very loud. Meanwhile, I am waiting and slowly preparing to calmly start creating again. I already feel that it is important to let go of vibrations and shout out essential thoughts with your voice. I wonder how it will go...”

Upstate New York,  photo: Ned n07b07,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0
You have been living in New York for many years. Could you talk about how New York has influenced your work, what inspires you, where has New York taken you?

“Since 2007, I have had my nest in the woods in Upstate NY, and I perceive all the sounds as music and write them down as notes. Even the silence that prevails these days has astonishing intensity and is a melody of its own. Mother Nature is enjoying the peace and regenerating. The air is clear and the visibility is incredibly focused. It is a significant inspiration not only for music, but also for the sentient human being.”

What are you working on right now? What can listeners look forward to?

“I am interested in performing in total darkness, where a listener can focus only on sounds and their eyes can relax completely. This is a desire that has bred in me for a long time, and I believe that I will soon be able to bring it to listeners.”

Iva Bittová,  photo: Dmitriy Rozhkov,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0
At the Czech Center, we currently have the exhibition The Genesis and Life of Janáček's Opera Káťa Kabanová. Leoš Janáček's music has also accompanied your work. You have interpreted his Moravian folk songs, which Janáček respected but also formalized, in a very unusual way. You have managed to breathe life back in them, free them, bring their energy back to the source from which folk music draws. What inspired you to develop this dialogue?

“The music of Leoš Janáček is close to my heart, and I even have a hunch that a small percentage of the same Moravian “blood” circulates in me. Similarly, we are inspired by human language and the sounds of nature. Janáček's music is timeless, still alive today, and so colorful and beautifully complex that it is impossible to get enough of it! I think our dialogue will accompany me for the rest of my musical life...”

Many people find solace in music. What helps you as a creator to find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?

“Music is our "bread and water of life." It stimulates, balances, harmonizes, resonates,and is extremely important in relation to our emotions. Without it, we cannot breathe, and without breath, life ends....”

Iva Bittová (1958) is a Czech singer, violinist, and actress. She is one of the most distinctive personalities of the Czech alternative music scene. She studied musical drama at the Brno Conservatory, specialising singing and the violin. Since 1978, she has been a member of the Theater on a String (now Goose on a String), where she drew attention to her role as Eržika in the play Ballad for the Bandit.

Her range of activities is remarkable -in music ranging from her own interpretations of folk songs through experimental jazz, rock, to violin applications of classical music and opera singing. In 2004, she performed at New York's Carnegie Hall as Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni. She also participates in various performative projects, children's programs, etc.

During her studies, she gained several television and film roles. In 2015, she received a Bachelor Degree in Theory and Practice of Early Music at Masaryk University in Brno, and in 2018, a Master Degree in Musicology. In 2007, she decided to temporarily move to the Hudson Valley in the state of New York. In 2018, she founded a private voice school called Žingora in the middle of nature.