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Stepan Filipek and Katelyn Bouska: A Czech-American Bridge Over Chamber Music.

Czech cellist Stepan Filipek and American pianist Katelyn Bouska first met at a contemporary music festival four years ago. In their joint projects, however, they aim to paint in much broader strokes the deeper connections between Czech and American composers. Their first joint CD, published last year, included Leos Janacek's Pohddka (Fairy Tale), Jeremy Gill's Dos sonetos de amor, and sonatas for cello and piano by Samuel Barber and Miloslav Istvan.

Filipek and Bouska have performed over twenty recitals together, including a prestigious concert organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington. They have performed at festivals including Encounters of New Music, Forfest, and American Spring. They work regularly with Czech Radio.

"I met Katelyn in 2015 at the Exposition of New Music festival in Brno," recalls Filipek. "Katelyn had been in the Czech Republic for some time, going to festivals and meeting people--she was interested in contemporary Czech music. We met after the festival, I showed her some scores by Miloslav Istvan which she liked, and she based her PhD on them. Only after that did we agree to play together."

Katelyn Bouska first came to the Czech Republic in 2006 for a short study visit, and then once again during her studies in Vienna. The music of Leos Janacek led her to an interest in the works of Czech composers of the 1950s and '60s--there wasn't much information to be found about them in the US. She had been interested in Czech music for a long time, and wanted to devote her dissertation at Temple University in Philadelphia to these forgotten composers.

"I grew up in a family of Czech heritage, so I was accustomed to listening and playing works by Dvorak, Smetana, and, of course, Janacek," explains Bouska, "but my particular interest didn't begin until 2012 when I began my doctoral studies. I wanted to focus on something that was both interesting and relevant to me, as well as representing an area of scholarship that was lacking in American musicology."

Filipek's knowledge of American music at the time also didn't go beyond a few of the most popular composers. He knew part of the New York avant-garde scene and the minimalists. But he also had an inkling that American music is a much more diverse world, one in which every university generates a somewhat different style.

"After discussions with Katelyn, I was taken by the scene in Philadelphia, which doesn't work with hard experiments," notes Filipek. "It is stimulating and extremely well-crafted music, which first and foremost attempts to get the musical information to the listener in the conservative sense, while at once speaking in a contemporary language."

The duo's musical interests thus found a natural continuation in sharing knowledge on Czech and American musical culture. That was also manifested on their first album.

"We aimed for a selection of Czech and American 20th-century composers who would correspond in time frame and style," says Fih'pek of the disc's dramaturgy. "For me, Barber is strongly connected to Janacek, even though he is much younger. Of course, Barber uses the compositional techniques of his time, but even with these, he achieves essentially romantic results."

American composer Jeremy Gill is the only living composer on the record. "Part of my main interest as a performing artist is to collaborate as much as possible with living composers," says Katelyn Bouska of her selection. "I feel this collaboration instills a sense of authenticity on my part during the preparation of the materials. Furthermore, the possibility of real-time feedback from the author himself during the preparation can provide an inspiration that can only be imagined when working with materials from an already-deceased composer. I considered several works by composer-colleagues and Jeremy's seemed best-suited for the composers already selected for the project."

"Jeremy Gill's Dos sonetos de amor occupy only a bit of space and follow perfectly the form of Pablo Neruda's sonnets which inspired them," adds Filipek. "It is compact music whose message is very convincing to me."

But both Bouska and Filipek feel the strongest mutual connection to Miloslav Istvan, whose Sonata for cello and piano from 1970 closes the album.

"Miloslav Istvan is a question of fate I chose myself. It began with my composition studies with his son, Radomir Istvan. I got to know Istvan's oeuvre while studying at the Janacek Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, and his Sonata for cello and piano was one of the first pieces I played there. I told my piano colleague at the time that it would definitely be this music that would make us famous; that we'd take around the world. Today, we play the sonata with Katelyn, but we do take it around the world."

"One of the things that drew me so quickly to Istvan's work is that it sounded so distinctive to me despite the clear influences of Janacek and Bartok," Bouska explains her admiration for Istvan's music. She recently recorded Istvan's complete works for piano for Czech Radio. For her, his music cannot be compared to that of any other composer.

"Since his piano compositions begin with his early composing days, they have clarified to me his experimentation, his search for musical forms, and the creation of his own compositional language," adds Bouska. "I think it is apparent in his works for piano or for small chamber ensemble--one hears in each a new approach to structural and textural details and the use of the instrument. He finds a way to enter new sound worlds in every composition. This, to me, is one facet of his musical creativity and why I continually find him so intriguing as a composer."

Filipek and Bouska are currently extending their repertoire and turning towards older music. They recently recorded for the radio Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorisek's (1791-1825) Variations for violoncello and piano, op.9, and Philadelphia-based composer David Carpenter wrote them a piece called Romance.

"We'd like to include Vitezslava Kapralova in our repertoire, as well Antonin Dvorak--audiences often ask for his music, and what's more, it's very beautiful," notes Filipek. "Me and Katelyn both feel that we shouldn't lose the capacity of interpreting music of all periods. I myself most value musicians who can present Franz Schubert just as well as George Crumb," he concludes.

by Boris Klepal
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Title Annotation:focus
Author:Klepal, Boris
Publication:Czech Music
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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