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Ivana Kunc


Ivana Kunc

Interview for “Voice of America”
with Damir Bebić


A Triumph at Carnegie Hall: 
Ivana Kunc makes Her Smashing Debut

By Michael Spudić

With the holiday season heading into full gear, let us pause a moment to reflect upon a uniquely satisfying concert that took place at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon, December 9th.  It was an afternoon that will certainly remain fixed in the memory of all those in attendance. 

Let us mark the triumphant debut of lyric soprano Ivana Kunc, in conjunction with her coach and accompanist Daniel Ragone, an abundantly gifted pianist highly active on the New York concert scene.  Together these two offered their audience a consummate labor of love with their adventurous assortment of vocal and piano compositions, all of them stemming from the pen of Ms. Kunc's father, the late Croatian-born pianist and composer Božidar Kunc.(b. Zagreb, 1903; d. Detroit, 1964). 

Aside from hearing an entire program of virtually unknown music for virtually all in attendance that afternoon, one might also bear in mind that what made Saturday's concert even more of an added treat is that Ivana Kunc is not only the daughter of the composer, but also the niece of operatic legend, Zinka Milanov, her father having been Zinka's older brother.  With all these familial ties in abundance, implicit throughout this recital was a high benchmark expectation of artistic achievement.  And Indeed, I am very happy to report that Ms. Kunc delivered the goods, exhibiting not only a tremendously solid vocal technique and musical sensitivity, but sustained throughout her program a very subtle interpretive style, never overtly extroverted, something so often lacking at art song recitals these days.  Her voice was vibrant and clear, diction always exact to the degree that one always understood the words throughout, and the musicality of her phrasing was totally sound and secure.  There was a warmth of timbre portending greater artistic enterprise into the future, especially within the art song genre. 

Ms. Kunc's comportment and grace on stage, and the depth of emotion that she conveyed through her father's direct and passionate vocal style, all connected with her audience, the cumulative result garnering an even deeper respect for this unique family legacy. 

 Mr. Ragone must be commended as well, not only for his very solid piano accompaniment throughout the program, but also for the way in which he admirably took center stage as piano soloist, performing with much verve and élan several very charming yet demanding solo pieces.

As to the music itself, from the sampling of works that were presented on this program, one was treated to a colorful assortment of structurally self-contained multi-partite works, all rooted in tonality.  Concerning Kunc's musical style, one discerned a more original harmonic language in his later opus works, his earlier compositions leaning more heavily on the French impressionists, especially Maurice Ravel, as heard especially in the "Two Songs for Soprano and Piano, Op. 30, sung in Croatian ("Strepnja"/"Quivering" and "Čežnja"/"Longing"). Also certain folkloric tendencies were hinted at, but in a more abstract way, witnessed by this composer's manipulation of local rhythms, such as certain discernable Croatian dance rhythms i.e. hints at a kolo dance rhythm heard in the "Six Bagatelles for Piano, Op. 44." 

Especially with respect to the last autobiographical song cycle "DeElda's Love Songs, Op. 72," portraying the strong love that existed between Ms. Kunc's parents, we noticed yet another family connection as the author of the text happened to be none other than the composer's wife as well as the singer's mother: yet again, more family connections in the service of great art!  Truth be told, the unique and special nature of this concert had very much to do with Ms. Kunc bringing her father back to life through his music, a sweet memento mori to the father who passed away before she could get to know him.  A key was left behind for Ms. Kunc in the form of this tremendous musical legacy, and it was our privilege last Saturday afternoon to witness a daughter's rekindling of a filial tie to her father through the magically transcendent realm of music.     

In attendance at Saturday's performance were a number of devotees of vocal music, among them, Connie Barnett, a favorite student of Zinka Milanov's.  Two other friends of Milanov's in attendance were Mirjana Lewis, a pianist in her own right and wife of jazz great John Lewis, as well as former ballerina Xenia Rakic.  Conductor and composer Fedor Kabalin also attended, and flutist from the Sylvan Winds, Svjetlana Kabalin was among the audience as well.  And of course, CROWN's own Nenad Bach was in attendance, together with his wife and two daughters.  And last but not least, among the members of the audience  was Ivana Kunc's brother, Douglas Bari, a writer and filmmaker, adding yet another family constituent to the artistic Kunc dynasty, a regal Croatian-American family, all on display at Carnegie Hall this past weekend.  All told, it was a priceless artistic event, so sorry if you missed it.  But perhaps not all is lost as  there are plans to go into the studio sometime in January, 2007 to record much of the music heard on this concert.  Stay tuned to CROWN for further information.

CD Review – All Music Guide

"Music of Božidar Kunc" – Ivana Kunc

Review by James Manheim - All Music Guide

Božidar Kunc was a Croatian composer, brother of soprano Zinka Milanov (the story of this name change is worth checking out). Like Milanov, he emigrated to the U.S., and continued to compose. Those who haunt the ethnic music programs at the lower end of the FM dial know that the entrenchment of the concert tradition in Eastern European cultures is deep, and that local scenes flourish largely under the radar. This disc gives us an above-average sample of what you might hear at a Croat community center in Toronto, Akron, or Chicago. Kunc died in Detroit in 1964. His music was touched only lightly by specifically Croat elements; its primary stylistic stimulant is Ravel's late impressionism, specifically its slightly jazz-tinged variant of the 1920s. Indeed, it is hard to tell whether Kunc absorbed influences from Gershwin in his adoptive home, or whether one is hearing them filtered through Ravel — and through the light, agile voice of his daughter, soprano Ivana Kunc, who lives in New York. Most of the songs have English texts; to hear a Ravel-like setting of William Wordsworth's poem "The Daffodils" is a novelty. There are two Croatian-language songs, and these are more ambitious and larger in scale than the rest of the music on the disc, which could have been written for family and friends. Ivana Kunc is a pleasure to hear, and the real highlight of this disc is its domestic quality — the third member of the family involved is Božidar Kunc's wife, De'Elda, who wrote many of the texts and chronicled her love affair with her husband in De'Elda's Love Songs, Op. 72. They're rather naïve, yet oddly original ("I could write a poem, it may be short or long/And when I write in meter, my love writes in song"), and the music picks up on their unusual twists in an intimate way. This privately issued disc is probably intended for social and cultural circles close to those of the performer, but its charms are accessible to outsiders.

CD Review - WAM Magazine

"Music of Božidar Kunc" – Ivana Kunc

Review by Durda Otržan - WAM Magazine

Released as a studio recording at the beginning of 2007, this album is a private edition of the composer's daughter, Ivana Joy Kunc.  Since the music on the recording comes from Kunc Songs, this CD brings us the vocal works of Božidar Kunc straight from the source.  The album is valuable and important for a number of reasons.  First, by getting acquainted with this particular opus of the composer, we are able to glean the trajectory of Kunc's life.  This is a trajectory that looks different from this side of the Atlantic than if considered from within his adopted homeland.  It thus appears that his fate destined Kunc to sacrifice what mattered to him most at a number of turning points in his life.  Born in 1903, he emerged as the most promising student of Svetislav Stancic and Blagoje Bersa.  At the beginning of his professional career, he quickly distinguished himself with a brilliant orchestral debut: his Violin Concerto was premiered by Zlatko Balokovic and the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra.  A successful international debut of the same piece followed in the US.  This period in Kunc's career already offers a glimpse of what followed in the years to come.  The songs he composed during this time undoubtedly bear the stylistic mark of his colleagues: Dora Pejacevic, and particularly Dragan Plamenac and the somewhat younger Ivana Lang.  The critics who are not familiar with the works of these Croatian authors are forced to locate Kunc's sources in the larger European context.  Here they find echoes of Ravel and perhaps of Gershwin in Kunc's American phase.  But if Kunc's songs are compared to those of Plamenac, their similarities are obvious given that the two composers and pianists shared in the overall zeitgeist of the 1930s Zagreb.  Year 1927 also marks the beginning of the period that stretches all the way to 1951, the year of Kunc's departure from Zagreb.  This period is characterized by the composer's increased marginalization of his own creative impulse. Božidar was of course the brother of an extremely talented young singer, one who needed a trusted accompanist and coach to work with her on, among other things, her weak sense of rhythm and tempo.  As a result, Stancic's brilliant student dedicated himself to supporting the career of the eventually famous Metropolitan diva Zinka Milanov.  Furthermore, by leaving his homeland for America in 1951, Božidar also left behind the Croatian language.  Thereafter he mainly composed to the verses of English language poets.  With his life fundamentally changed – foreign country, new language, and the piano different from the one in the concert hall – Kunc fought depression by composing instrumental music.  Happiness finally arrived in the person of a student, DeElda Fiebelkorn, whom he married and who soon gave birth to Ivana Joy.  Their life together was, by all accounts, filled with love and understanding and this microcosm of happiness found its way into Kunc's work, namely, the cycle of songs DeElda's Love Songs.  The story would have its happy ending there had Kunc not been offered the opportunity to finally climb a concert podium in Detroit on April 1, 1964 to perform his first Piano Concerto.  His heart, however, could no longer sustain the contradictions inherent in his ambition, on the one hand, and his self-sacrifice, on the other.  He collapsed shortly after the concert was over clearly unable to reconcile the truth of his creative genius with the everyday life led in the shadow of the famous sister.  And so it remains up to us to support and push for more frequent performances (which have been coming in the recent years) of Kunc's work, in particular his four extraordinary piano sonatas.   With this in mind, Ivana Joy's performance in Carnegie Hall last year would have made her parents and her aunt enormously proud.   She handled Kunc's songs not only with a great deal of warmth and deftness, but with maturity, vocal beauty, and her own physical presence which recalls her aunt in her best years.  It's as if Ivana too bears the streak of selflessness that marked her father's artistic career.  The album contains two free-standing songs, She and Notturnino, and four cycles: three songs to texts in English (Wordsworth, Blake, Longfellow); two songs to poetry by Desanka Maksimovic; and De'Elda's love songs.  Ivana Kunc approaches all these as if they were treats of truly extraordinary significance. Rightly so because each cycle of songs represents a distinct summation of Kunc's artistic credo. Moreover, the performance is as authentic, as honest, and as historically justified as can be – particularly since one of the songs is explicitly dedicated to Ivana Joy.  A valuable bequest thus found its rightful owner.


Ivana Kunic

Ivana Kunc