The Heart is a Bell: Iva Bittová Makes Joyful Music with the MIT Symphony

The Heart is a Bell: Iva Bittová with MITSO
Thursday, October 10, 2019 / 8:00pm
MIT Kresge Auditorium, W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
Free for the MIT community



A unique program presents compositions by two female Czech composers.

The MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) begins its 2019-20 season with music inspired by Czech folk music. But instead of the often-played symphonic fare from Czech composers like Dvořák or Smetana, The Heart is a Bell: Iva Bittová with the MIT Symphony presents compositions by twentieth-century Czech women: the US premiere of Bittová’s Zvon, and the Suita Rustica by Vítězslava Kaprálová. The October 10th program also includes Frog’s Eye, by Evan Ziporyn, faculty director of the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and acting director of MITSO this season.

Although they were created 75 years apart, Suita Rustica and Zvon both offer a decidedly modern take on Czech folk music. Zvon in particular contextualizes Czech folk traditions in a modern context, with an ensemble that includes Bittová’s unique solo voice and a jazz combo featuring bassist and MIT Affiliated Artist Keala Keumeheiwa.

Bittová is a frequent musical collaborator at MIT who has performed with a variety of groups, including the improvisational trio EVIYAN (with Gyan Riley and Ziporyn), the Festival Jazz Ensemble and with Pilobolus Dance, for MIT One World. 

Known for her musical fluidity and riveting performances, the former actress is adept at culling diverse musical languages, while retaining their authenticity. “Her music is a full reflection of who she is,” says Ziporyn. “She comes from a family of traditional musicians, plays jazz, has a degree in early music; she’s played Donna Elvira  in Mozart’s Don Giovanni , performed Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Berio’s Folk songs and Schnittke Faustus Cantata. And in all of these contexts, she sounds inimitably like herself.”

Bittová, says Ziporyn, brings a singularly eclectic approach to music-making, and an opportunity to expand MITSO’s musical repertoire as only she can. 

We spoke with Bittová and Ziporyn about the upcoming program.

Q: The Heart is a Bell is a lovely idea. Is it yours?

Bittová: I liked it a lot. It comes from the song Zvon, written by me and guitarist Vladimir Vaclavek, who wrote the lyrics. Together, we composed the larger piece, Zvon, which appeared on our album, Bílé Inferno. That version is scored for viola, guitar, voice and the girls’ choir, Lelky.

I like to resonate with younger musicians. It is important to share music and energy from different sides, and create a moment on stage together with the audience. Hopefully the music will ring, much like a bell, in all our hearts at MIT.

Q: How did the pairing of Zvon and Suita Rustica come together as a program?

Bittová: I am honored to be next to Vítězslava in this program! It’s such a great idea. She was very talented. We have a similar approach to music based on Czech folk tunes.

Ziporyn: Beyond that, Kaprálová composed Suita Rustica in October of 1938, as the Nazis were occupying ‘Sudetenland,’ i.e., as Czechoslovakia was losing its independence. Iva, meanwhile, started her career during the final years of the Iron Curtain, as the country was gaining it back.  

Q: How is Zvon structured? Does it incorporate both improvisation and composition, as in so much of your music?

Bittová: I would describe Zvon as a birth of songs, mostly scored for small instrumentation. It has a good basic form, which allowed us to add more instruments and voices and create a larger arrangement for this program.

It’s very important to leave space in music for improvisation. This always brings something new and different to the performance. I like to give the musician’s some space for improvisation, to build a conversation on the stage, surprise each other, and be playful together.

Q: How does the jazz combo interact with the orchestra in Zvon?

Bittová: It always depends on the musicians’ level of experience. For this concert, we will be in good hands with Keala Keumeheiwa.

Q: Zvon features your unique voice. Could you imagine your role performed by  someone else?

Bittová: Probably not, although I’ve never thought about it. Interesting question!

Q: Beyond jazz and Czech folk music, what musical influences should the audience be listening out for in Zvon?

Bittová: We will see!

Ziporyn: Iva loves odd meters, so there will be a lot of counting! Vladimír Václavek, Iva’s collaborator, is a master at devising cat’s-cradle-like rhythmic and harmonic patterns. But more than that, there’s an element of joy and spontaneity to all of Iva’s music, so I hope that that’s part of it for the musicians as well.

Q: Tell us about your piece on the program, Frog’s Eye.

Ziporyn: I thought it’d be a good way for the orchestra and me to get to know each other. I composed Frog’s Eye in 2002 after a transcendent hot summer day at Walden Pond. It was my first orchestra piece in many years, and after years of working with smaller groups, I found myself reveling in the musical flora and fauna of this ‘old growth’ ensemble.


Iva Bittová performs with the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) as part of the 2019–20 MIT Sounding series.

MITSO guest conductor, Evan Ziporyn

Program includes:

Vítězslava Kaprálová, Suita Rustica

Evan Ziporyn, Frog’s Eye

Iva Bittová, Zvon (US Premiere)
with Iva Bittová, solo voice; and guests Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Phil Sargent, guitar; Austin McMahon, drums; and Venkatesh Sivaraman, piano.

Composed over 75 years apart, Kaprálová’s Suita Rustica and Bittová‘s Zvon pull from their parallel yet distinct musical and cultural backgrounds to create orchestral tapestries merging Czech folk art with urbane modernity. Together they exemplify the ongoing ways in which composition can fiercely assert identity and difference.

Posted on September 30, 2019 by Connie Blaszczyk