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The prayers and czardas of: Agnes Kutas.

The end of 1st year turned the spotlight on three Czech women singers (Or more precisely three women singers living in Czechia"), who seek and find inspiration in folk musik. Iva Bittova out-shone the acclaimed Netherlands blazers ensemble, and as they tried to get a grasp of her musik and Janacek's she gave them a lesson in spontenaity. At the request of the Partnership Foundation, Zuzana Lapcikova recorded an album about trees, Strom zivota [The Tree of Life]--and managed to breathe life into it with a highly individual folk mythology based on humility and a sense of deep connection with nature.

But these are two very well-known and even quite famous names, of course, and what is interesting Is that a new face is appearing beside theirs. It belongs to a woman who has already been living here for twenty years, but has not yet attracted so much attention. As her Internet page puts it, her music is "free of ingrating looks and fluttering eyelashes and seasoned with hot Hungarian paprika ... Her pieces are quite prayers, but sleeping in those prayers is a fiery czards, which when it wakes devours everything in reach ..."

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On a first meeting with the Hungarian from Brevnov Agnes Kutas, you may well be inclined to compare her with Iva Bittova. It's a comparison to which she is used. "It's very natural--I'm a woman, I sing and I accompany myself on the violin," she says. Both of them also have the blood of more passionate and fiery nations running in their veins. On the other hand, Agnes Kutas goes on to stress that "I love Iva Bittova, but I don't think that she's directly influenced me."

In her music she derives free inspiration from Hungarian folk music. Sometimes she simply sings in traditional style, or sometimes she simply uses a text to which she composes her own melody. At other times she borrows a particular motif, but then builds her own composition on it with her violin or viola, or even uses the text of one folk song with the melody from a completely different piece. For Agnes Kutas folk music is a building malerial, which she uses with complete freedom. Interestingly, however, she came to music quite late.

Agnes Kutas decided to come to Prague when she was twenty one. Before that she had studied applied graphic art in Budapest, but it had failed to engage her. She turned to the idea of studying puppet theatre, but since there were no courses on the subject available in the Hungarian capital, she applied to the Prague department of stage design.

Not surprisingly then, her first musical performance was associated with the theatre. Live music was needed for a production of Gogol and Agnes let slip that she played the violin. Later she joined the Tuju theatre company, established by the stage designer Tomas Zizka, whom she later married. For their production of Kleopatra they created a whole music ensemble and Agnes wanted to add singing to playing. "When I asked in the group if they knew anyone who would teach me, they recommended Jana Lewitova."

She started to take lessons with Lewitova, and at the end of each lesson she was always supposed to have worked up some thing to sing, "1 was getting bored always singing the same songs, and so I started to look for others." Gradually she built up a repertoire by arranging folksongs and adding her own.

Her relationship with Jana Lewitova ceased to be just one of student and teacher, and the two musicians began to perform together. The results are recorded on the album Hale dite, for which Agnes also designed the jacket, but recently there have been very few joint concerts. "We try, but we are terribly badly organised people", Agnes confesses.

Live Life as it Comes

Her husband co-founded the Roxy Club, and so it was there that she made her solo debut. And once again it was Tomas Zizka who recommended Agnes to drummer Jaroslav Koran (see a profile in Czech Music 5/2002), with whom she currently plays. "At that point we still didn't start to play together, actually," Koran remembers. "The time wasn't yet ripe for it. Before then I had been playing much more chamber-style music on the Horologe of Dreamers and in another group on the pot, and I was too absorbed in that almost ambient music. And Agnes was also playing rather different songs, and so we only come together much later ..."

That "later" happened when Jaroslav recommended Agnes to the "Neigbourhood in Progress" festival in Vienna. The organiser and already agreed one joint performance of violin and percussion and she wanted to line it up with something similar. In the end she persuaded Jaroslav Koran to have a joint concert with Agnes. It was a case of the festival absolutely living up to its name: in November 2001 the Austrian capital saw the premiere of collaboration between a Czech drummer and a Hungarian violinist.

Album in the Waiting Room

Since then, Kutas and Koran have performed together ever more frequently and this year they he recorded material for a first joint album at Jaroslav's cottage in the Sumava Forest. It includes Agnes singing both ballads and very forceful songs, their impact strengthened by Koran's rhythm. She sometimes replaces Hungarian with an appealing if rather lisping Czech. Agnes sings her own arrangements of poems by Jakub Deml, Jaroslav Seifert, and of texts by her husband. The violin interludes have been moving away from folk motifs and the music has been shifting somewhere in the direction of free improvisation with slight suggestions of minimalism. So what about Agnes Kutas's musical models in general? "I listen to absolutely everything. I love Laurie Anderson, and even named my daughter Laura-Andrea after her. I like the Portuguese singer Dulce Ponte and also Nerve Net by Brian Eno. I put that on when I need calming down," she says, and admits that she is a little tempted by the idea of trying out some similar music herself. Readers will have to wait a little longer for the release of the album, which will apparently be called Laska me muci [Love Tortures Me]. "There are several different possibilities in play", Jaroslav Koran says about the fate of the album. He may offer it to a record company, or he may try to publish it himself. "We intend to have it out by December whatever happens, even if hum on computer and with a xeroxed jacket ... At the moment the most important thing for it is that it should simply exist, just like the other titles from Pagoda (Note: Koran's label), that I'm gradually finishing off."

You can at least find Agnes Kutas's music on an album by her colleague, Kateryna Kolcova, from a Nezne knoflfky [Tender Buttons] performance, Blfzko jeden ... [The Day is Near], released by Supraphon at the end of June. Meanwhile Agnes can concentrate on her next steps. "Now I want to try some faster pieces. But I'm not sure yet how to go about it--I don't know whether to take folk music again." Playing with percussion is something she enjoys, but she might like to add something else to it. "I would like it to be even fresher. People usually react to the fresher songs."
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Author:Javurek, Adam
Publication:Czech Music
Date:May 1, 2003
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