More than a hundred years after his death, fans of Antonín Dvořák have a chance to hear a new piece by one of the greatest Czech composers. An artificial intelligence programme called AIVA recently completed a fragment of his piano composition in E-minor. It was recorded by the acclaimed Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek.
A century ago the Czech community in New York was centred around the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Indeed, an estimated 40,000 Czechs lived in the area known as Yorkville. Ed Chlanda’s family were members of that community and the 80-year-old kindly gave me a tour of the neighbourhood, taking in a former Czech bank, the street where he grew up, the Jan Hus church and the Bohemian National Hall. But we started at the New York Sokol on East 71st St., where Chlanda is an active member. Surrounded by photos, medals and other memorabilia in the Sokol
Joseph Balaz is president of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, which brings together the leading Czech organisations in New York. But Balaz’s main activity is running a successful construction firm that brings him into contact with global celebrities and the cream of Manhattan society. Not bad for a student from Prague’s Žižkov who escaped from communist Czechoslovakia with little more than the clothes on his back. The man born Josef Baláž spoke to me at the splendid Bohemian National Hall, the completion of whose renovation he personally
Ondřej Pivec plays organ with one of the biggest stars in world jazz, singer Gregory Porter. This makes Pivec, who is in his mid-30s, perhaps the most successful non-classical Czech musician of his generation. When we met at a café in his Brooklyn neighbourhood, the conversation took in his struggles to establish himself in New York, the specific nature of performing in churches and his live baptism of fire with Porter. But first Ondřej Pivec explained how a stay of several months in the Big Apple 10 years ago turned into a long-term move that tranformed
In 2017 director Marie Dvořáková followed the likes of Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis and her compatriot Jan Svěrák in winning the Student Academy Award for her film Who’s Who in Mycology. When we spoke in New York, the filmmaker told me the short had a long gestation – and that she was currently working on not one but three new projects. But I first asked Marie Dvořáková what had drawn her to film in the first place.
The Václav Havel Library in Prague follows the US presidential library model in gathering and archiving materials relating to the late Czech dissident turned head of state. In the US, Havel’s legacy is promoted by sister organisation the Václav Havel Library Foundation, which is based at the Bohemian National Hall in New York. The latter is headed by Pavla Niklová, a former director of the city’s Czech Center. When we met, Niklová explained the relationship between the foundation and the library itself.
Dr. Paul Ort’s mother and grandfather were murdered by the Nazis in reprisals that followed the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. A childhood friend of Vaclav Havel’s, the then Pavel Ort escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia via Tunisia after securing a medical degree against the odds. He went on to have a very successful career in the US, where he is still practising at the age of 82.
US-based Czech photographer Marie Tomanová is known for her striking portrait work and often nude images of her own body interacting with nature. Right now Tomanová’s career is on the up and up. She made a splash in New York with a solo show this year, has her first monograph coming out soon and is also set to be the subject of a documentary. When we met, I asked the Moravian-born artist what had led her to the US almost eight years ago.
When I visited New York in September I heard nothing but praise for the work of the city’s Czech Center in recent years. Much of the credit for this belongs to Barbara Karpetová, its tireless director, whose tenure is now coming to a close. The Czech Center is located in the magnificent Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. When we spoke at its well-stocked, stylish library, I asked Karpetová who the institution’s visitors tended to be.