Have you ever had that experience of having a connection with music that you discovered, so that it seemed like yours? Disregard the fact that hundreds (of thousands) of other people likely have the album you’re falling in love with, and that some even know the performers, because that music came onto your radar when or how it did, it’s yours.
But does that happen with classical music? It most assuredly does. In the intro to this episode, I mention rather sillily that I have some kind of ‘special relationship’ with Scriabin’s piano sonatas (no, he’s not the topic of the podcast; it’s so much more interesting), but that’s just to mean that compared to the other music I listen to and enjoy, his sonatas kind of hold a special place for me.
But imagine yourself, a young talented pianist, on a trip to Europe digging for what are arguably your own musical roots, and being handed manuscripts of sonatas that have never been published, some never even performed, much less recorded, and coming from a very dark time in the history of a certain part of the world… imagine that feeling, that sense of responsibility, that connection.
And now meet Dr. Katelyn Bouska. She tells me that the works of Czech composer Miloslav Ištvan have occupied a pretty significant place in her life over the past year, and that she foresees that they will continue to do so. She came across Štěpán Filípek, Ph.D, one of the founding members of the Miloslav Ištvan Quartet, and he was able to get her the scores that we speak about. (Ištvan studied at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, primarily under Jaroslav Kvapil. Miloslav’s son, Radomír, teaches at the Brno Conservatory. These are some of the names that will be mentioned in the episode, and I had to ask Dr. Bouska for spellings.)
I was put in contact with Dr. Bouska via a previous podcast guest, Mr. Clipper Erickson, who embarked on a similar project of research, dedication, performance and recording of a composer of (Canadian-) American heritage, Nathaniel Dett. It took us some time to get in touch, but boy am I glad we did.
I had the wonderful opportunity to have a sneak peak of sorts at her recital she gave of the pieces in April, and I am very eager to get my hands on a more portable format of these works because they are absolutely stunning. Bouska makes a good point in discussing neglected works. She mentions that there’s always some doubt from performers (or even listeners) digging into neglected composers or works, that maybe in the big scheme of things, these works ended up at the bottom of the repertoire barrel for a reason, but it only takes one listen to Ištvan’s piano sonatas to put that question to rest. There’s not a sliver of doubt that this music is inspired, individual, and vivid, and wonderfully played by Bouska.
It seems that her performances of at least two of the sonatas might have been world premieres, but they would at the very least have been North American premieres. Dr. Bouska, herself of Czech descent, has made it her life’s work (at least for near future), it seems, to give these works the attention they deserve (or demand). In this episode, we speak about how she came across Miloslav Ištvan, his background, what makes his work special, and what it’s like to be the first person to bring these incredible pieces to people’s attention. It’s a conversation I was thrilled and privileged to have, and this is only the first part of it. I’m looking forward to sharing more, and cannot wait until you guys get to hear this music for yourselves. Stay tuned, and go listen!