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Apr 22, 2020 - May 31, 2020

Musicians Who Won't Be Silenced

Inspirational interviews with Czech musicians living in America in a difficult time.


Iva Bittová, Ondřej Pivec, Martina Fišerová, Matěj Číp

in conversation with Marek Milde

“Even the silence that prevails these days has astonishing intensity and is a melody of its own,” says Iva Bittová, who these days is gaining inspiration and strength in nature. At a time when both the city and concert halls have fallen silent, and as a society we are facing trials, music is becoming more significant. Music uplifts and influences the mood, and its universal ability to edify spirit and the human psyche is doubly useful during the corona crisis. Musical tones relieve sadness and solitude, rhythm inspires courage, and melody evokes joy. Many of us like to play our favorite music, and if we don't play or sing ourselves, at least we can hum along with the radio.

What are musicians themselves doing at this time? We wonder how the current situation has affected the lives of musicians, professionals. What do they do in a situation in which they can't play publicly and we can't go listen to them live? In the form of interviews, we asked Czech musicians living in New York or elsewhere in America, many of whom have performed in the Czech Center in the past, about what music means to them now. What tips do they have, not only musical, on how to bridge this period?

This time, this second series of interviews focuses on local musicians and their personal experiences during the constraints that have caused cultural life to come to a standstill, as a follow-up to our studio interviews with Czech artists living in New York, Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps. We look at the works of these outstanding artists and talk about the creativity and the possible role of art in the current situation, but above all, we want to share with you the message of hope that their art offers.



Music is Our "Bread and Water of Life" 

Iva Bittová 

with Marek Milde 


Photo: archive of Iva Bittova

                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: archive of Iva Bittova 

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

IB: 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.

MM: 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?

IB: 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…

MM: 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?

IB: 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.

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

IB: 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.

MM: 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?

IB: 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...

MM: 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?

IB: 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, singing and violin playing. 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. Credit:Wikipedia 






Everything, and This Too, Will One Day Pass 

Ondřej Pivec 

with Marek Milde


Photo: Simon Engelbert

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo: Simon Engelbert 


MM: Where and how did the situation with the coronavirus catch up to you? Has it affected your life?

OP: Well, it caught me on my tour with Gregory Porter, we were just in Paris. We had hoped (just like everyone) that it would be over in 14 days. Unfortunately, it turned out a little differently in the end. It has affected my life quite significantly. I was supposed to be on tour all year long, so I had arranged my life accordingly. But I wouldn't dare complain, there are people out there who have real problems. For me, it will only be a little uncomfortable for a while.

MM: You had a lot of plans for this year, a tour and a very busy schedule, but now you can't perform publicly. How will it affect your playing?

OP: Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to play live until the fall. This will probably be the longest in my entire professional life. At least I will use the time for activities that I don't normally do, like sleep… We are all wondering what to do next. Going online is quite an evident option, but it is beginning to be excessive. Next week, we are doing a live concert with Organic Quartet, it will be an online stream, so I am curious how it will turn out.

MM: Now in mid-April, the new All Rise album, where you play with Gregory Porter, will be released. You've also worked with him on the album Take Me To The Alley for which you won a Grammy Award. Can you tell us what we can look forward to this time?

OP: Well, the record label decided to postone the release date to August, which is understandable, given the current situation. A few days ago, Gregory released a new single called “Thank You” and I am very happy about it, because there is a lot of Hammond. The new album is refined production-wise, and I dare say that it will make Gregory a star like Adele.

MM: You've been living in New York for over a decade. Could you talk about how New York influenced your work, what inspires you, where has New York taken you?

OP: New York is a city full of hardworking people who have dreams. This causes a lot of competition, and also quickly reveals the fact that you don’t actually know how to do anything. Which is quite a nice motivating factor. It makes you do something about yourself.

MM: An important role for you was playing gospels at churches in Brooklyn, Harlem, and Queens, where you were very well-received. Not only did you meet important people from your field there, but you also got to the source of African-American music from which jazz and soul were born. How do you experience rituals in the music? Is spirituality transferable to your own creative output?

OP: Well, this is a fairly complex question. One of the things I realized is how much our history has forced us to move away from our own feelings. Unfortunately I have to say that after traveling through half of the world, I found out that we are quite unique in it. Yes, I may have gotten to the source, but I have so much respect for it that I understand that I was merely getting closer.

MM: Many people find solace and encouragement in music, which is pretty current now. What do you listen to as a musician?

OP: I use this time to discover new things and listen to artists I didn’t know so well before. One of them is PJ Morton, then also Anderson Paak. I have quite a lot of unfinished work - things that I should listen to, watch, etc., so now I’m catching up.

MM: Besides music, what helps you find balance and support in these precarious times? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?

OP: I think that everything, and this too, will one day pass.


Ondřej Pivec (1984) is a Czech-American musician, composer, and producer who plays the keyboard and Hammond’s organ. He has lived in New York since January 2009. From an originally jazz organist playing almost exclusively on a non-standard instrument - Hammond’s organ - he gradually worked his way onto the American scene of RnB, soul, pop, and gospel. In addition to Hammond, he also plays various keyboard instruments and sings. On the Czech scene, he is known mainly for his jazz formation Ondřej Pivec Organic Quartet. In the USA, he performs most often with the Kennedy Administration and worldwide with the American singer Gregory Porter. It was with him that he won a Grammy in 2017. He has worked with many artists worldwide: Wu-Tang Clan, Andra Day, Gregoire Maret, Joel Frahm, Jake Langley, Yvonne Sanchez, Russell Carter, Paul Bollenback, Karel Ruzicka Jr., Bill Campbell, Nabuko, Billy Cobham and others. Credit:Wikipedia






I love people, I love the variety 

Martina Fišerová

with Marek Milde 


Photo: Brigid McCorm

                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Brigid McCorm


MM: Where did the situation with the coronavirus catch up to you? How has it affected your life?

MF: I had just gotten back from a short vacation by the sea, which after many years, I had a chance to indulge in thanks to Laco Deczi and his wonderful wife Catherine. But I had to work it off in the end - Laco won't let anyone relax when music can be made. It was about a week after returning that I became ill with all the symptoms of the coronavirus. Fortunately, the course of the illness was of the milder sort.

MM: For the upcoming period, you had a series of concerts planned, here in New York and also in Prague, which unfortunately cannot take place now. How are you coping with it? Do you find the energy to create?

MF: Well, of course, I am taking this quite badly, because even last year was not one of my most productive ones due to recurring health problems. All the more so I was therefore looking forward to breaking through this year and planning to record with one of my musical heroes. Due to the situation, however, I will probably not be able to afford it. The question is if I can even afford to stay in New York. I was also looking forward to the June performance at Prague Proms Festival, where my songs were to be played in new arrangements and in a more colorful instrumental cast. However, this is not lost yet, we are discussing a new date.

MM: You have lived in New York for many years. Could you talk about how New York influenced your work, what inspires you, where has New York taken you?

MF: I've only been here for the seventh year, so I'm still a bit of a rookie New Yorker. Of course, New York has influenced me incredibly, in many ways. I was initially attracted to the city mainly by my desire to taste the authenticity of the music on which I grew up, meaning all forms of jazz. Experiencing the environment and energy, breaking through to a certain emotion, having the possibility to talk to musicians who were demigods in my eyes, and getting ablessing from them on my musical path. The anonymity one has in New York helped me and allowed me to feel more free to create and experiment, and I moved from singing original jazz standards to creative work of my own. I love people, I love the diversity that is actually extreme here, as well as a lot of pain and suffering that makes you feel frustrated with your own helplessness every day. I have experienced unique adventures, stories, miracles as well asquite severe downfalls. Above all, however, I am always trying to improve my craft, searching for music lessons and workshops, and listening to live music as much as I can.

MM: People find consolation and encouragement in music. Besides singing and playing, you have also engaged in music therapy. In the current situation, music helps many of us withstand difficult times. Do you have any recommendations on how to perceive music more deeply? What do you listen to as a singer? 

MF: Everybody probably imagines something different under the term music therapy. In the anthroposophical approach that intrigued me, we looked at the observation and exploration of the phenomena of silence, time, and the individual elements and qualities that make up music. This helps me calm down internally and is a stronger need for me now than indulging in listening to music. When I do, I practice it more as research because I try to catch up with a lot of unfinished work. I admit that under the current circumstances, it is difficult to motivate yourself and concentrate, but if you disconnect from your devices for a while, your mind will feel relieved and you can then consciously occupy thisspace. It's a daily battle. 

MM: Besides music, what helps you find the balance and support in these precarious times? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?

MF: The basics are helpful: keeping a certain daily routine, practicing yoga, occasionally taking a walk or relaxing with a movie or book. For example, my favorite book Citadelle by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is now available in audio libraries, masterfully read by Jiří Dvořák. Of course, contact (via telephone) with my friends helps me a lot, human closeness that we have to keep an eye on, as well as our freedom.


Martina Fišerová is a singer and musician with a jazz background who currently works in New York. She is known to the Czech audience for her acoustic projects and long-term cooperation with many prominent personalities of the domestic and international scene: Laco Deczi, Impuls, Walter Fischbacher or Jaryn Janek (author and vocal collaboration on the album Ty Lidi). For many years, she also sang as a vocalist in Kamil Střihavka's band. She released her first, jazz-imbued CD Clearing Fields with Blue Season Art Agency as well as her latest album Shift with solely original content, which was recorded in parts in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the USA. Martina was recently honored to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.





It Is Essential To Keep Asking "Why" 

Matěj Číp 

with Marek Milde 


Photo: Northern State University

                                                                             Photo: Northern State University


MM: You are currently studying the cimbalom at Northern University, South Dakota. How did the current coronavirus situation affect your life? Although South Dakota is not at the heart of the epidemic, the university is closed. What does stopping your studies mean to you? 

MČ: I am firmly convinced that all bad is good for something, so I try to look at the positive side of the situation. The university officially closed and all lessons are now online. Fortunately, thanks to our great program for international students, we still have the opportunity to stay on campus and focus on studying, including instrumental exercises. I had a very busy first half of this semester, so I perceive this period as an ideal time for more rest and a kind of self-reflection, for which there is often no time here during the year. The biggest challenge comes with my musical courses. All ensemble lessons have been canceled as well as many concerts and cultural events. Individual instrumental lessons can take place thanks to the Internet, but it does not replace personal contact with professors during regular lessons. Our university, always full of students and life, suddenly turned into a "ghost town," so I often use this tranquility to meditate, read, and plan other cimbalom lectures and concerts.

MM: Studying the cimbalom in America is quite unusual; you are currently the only student of this instrument on this continent. How did you get the idea of going overseas and what motivated you to do so? 

MČ: I was always attracted by the American environment. I anticipated the Americans were open to new things, so even studying an instrument that had no tradition here didn't seem unfeasible to me. When completing the last two years of my studies at the Janáček Conservatory in Ostrava, I often wondered exactly where I would see myself in a few years. I have always wanted to try new possibilities, and at that time it seemed foolish not to try something I could regret later in my life. I was driven by a strong vision, which, together with the huge support of my parents and my professor and mentor Daniel Skála, gave me the courage at a time when my dream seemed even more distant from its implementation. I believe it is essential to keep asking "why" in almost everything we do in our lives. My dream would probably never come true if I had not regularly reassured myself with this question. Thanks to this gradual awareness, I have gained a very strong motivation to turn my thoughts into action.

MM: The journey of study to the New World from Moravia is not easy, how did you manage it? What do those who dream of something like this have to undergo? 

MČ: Maybe not easy, but definitely adventurous! The first challenge was to find and persuade a university to study the cimbalom, a field that is not officially taught anywhere in the US. The second question was about finance, and then there was "perhaps" only 110 kg of instruments to transport to the new continent. After a lengthy internet search and a tip from the J. W. Fulbright Commission in Prague, I found a university in South Dakota where Professor Marcela Faflak, who also comes from the Czech Republic, teaches piano playing. She was very excited about my idea and helped me to negotiate great cimbalom and study conditions at school. My family could not afford to cover very expensive studies, so I decided to apply for various scholarships and contributions from Czech study foundations. My story captivated a lot of people. With their help, and also with the support of several of these foundations and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, I could pack my bags, my cimbalom and embark on an unbelievable adventure. It was definitely a more complicated journey than I had dreamed of being naive in the beginning, but when I first brought the cimbalom to the university, I could hardly describe the feeling of happiness and gratitude that overwhelmed me at that moment. 

MM: What is the difference in teaching and the approach to studying music between the USA and the Czech Republic? Can you name the differences and tell us where does playing the cimbalom lead you?   

What has your experience of staying in America given you?

MČ: From my point of view, I find a fundamental American degree of professionalism and free-thinking. Overall, I find the American style of teaching based on frequent interactivity between professors and students. Also, a strong sense for community offers you as a student tremendous opportunities. You feel that everyone is here and foremost for you and your success, and then it's only up to you how you make the most of it. In my cimbalom case, it brings me unlimited possibilities for musical experimentation. I can try almost anything with the cimbalom. For example, I can be a part of various ensembles (jazz, percussion ensembles, etc.), or I work with students and professors of other fields. The cimbalom here is not firmly set in the folklore context, which brings me much more musical freedom. For the last time I worked with my friend Aldous, who is an excellent jazz pianist and improviser. Together we work on new compositions for piano and cimbalom based on the context of classical, jazz, folklore and funk music. The American experience gives me a lot. Currently I greatly appreciate their ability to present themselves and believe in what they do. A healthy level of self-confidence at the right time clearly helps your career here. At home in schools, I used to listen to teachers and memorize curriculum, which I often forgot afterwards. Here they are constantly asking you for your opinion, which helps greatly to build a sense of critical thinking.

MM: Curriculum and public performances are currently suspended, does it affect your playing as such? What are your plans for the future?

MČ: It affected the planned concerts and lectures I had until the end of the semester. Fortunately, nothing has been canceled, just postponed, so at least I have a scope to focus on more detailed work. It also gives me more time for exercise and contact with my family and friends, for which I am very happy.

In the future, I want to complete my Bachelor degree at Northern State University. During that I will continue to focus on cimbalom concerts and lectures. I am very interested in spreading awareness about this instrument across America and it makes sense to me. Often every show brings me a lot of other and interesting contacts, thanks to which I can play with the cimbalom more often. I recently started working with the great American composer Anthony Plog, who is already working on a new concert piece for the cimbalom and symphony ensemble. There is definitely something to look forward to.

MM: Many people currently find solace and encouragement in music. What do you listen to as a musician?

MČ: Recently I enjoy listening to music from Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, who also studied music in the United States and found a beautiful balance between Armenian musical traditions, classical music and jazz. His music helps me with mental balance and contemplation. Otherwise, I also make extensive use of the generous offers of world-class orchestras and musicians. For example, the Berlin Philharmonic provided free internet access to recordings of the best concerts ever. Being almost always surrounded by music, I also like to listen to podcasts that at least help me to keep abreast of events of our complex world.

MM: What helps you find balance in addition to music? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?

MČ: During my first semester of music studies in the United States, I discovered the magic of mindfulness. On the American continent, it is a common tool for raising awareness. Through concentrated work with breath, people help to find inner balance and peace in their busy and rapid lives. Now I can meditate more intensively, and this helps me very much in concentration and some kind of calming down. This is also ideally linked to reading. I got books that were recommended by the people who inspired me the most. Reading has also become a kind of meditation for me and there is definitely a lot to choose from in American libraries. I wish that this situation will help us realize our connection with nature and the people we really care about. I believe that our responsibility and human collectiveness can stop this precarious period, and we as humans can learn from this situation.


Matěj Číp (1996) has been playing the cimbalom since he was 8 years old. Through the beginnings of music studies at elementary art schools, the successful graduation from the Janáček Conservatory in Ostrava, Číp got from a small village Hodslavice in the Moravian-Silesian Region to study music at the university in the USA. In 2018, he officially became the first cimbalom student in the United States. He is expanding his musical knowledge at Northern State University, South Dakota, and through regular appearances and lectures, he also spreads awareness of this musical instrument to American and world audiences.

Cimbalom Guy YouTube Channel 


Marek Milde is Czech born, Prague native, artist and a curator, based in Brooklyn, New York. He is working in tandem with his wife Kristyna Milde on projects investigating culture and environmental issues, their interdisciplinary art practice includes installation, and public art. Their work has been presented nationally and internationally in venues such as Museum of Modern Art, Queens Museum and DOX in Prague. As Exhibition and Production Manager he is organizing programs and exhibitions at the Czech Center NY, and also working for the Exhibition and Collection Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received MFA from Queens College, New York in 2007, he studied Sculpture at Atelier Dodekaeder, Germany, Goetheanum, Switzerland, and the School of Applied Art in Prague. 





From: Apr 22, 2020
To: May 31, 2020


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