Lev Rybalkin

* 1952

  • "At Bartolomějská and at the Foreign Police they talked to me a little differently. But only on the basis that until the revolution I had a red Russian passport. So, they couldn't jump on me like they did on citizens of the Czechoslovak Republic. Of course, when it went on for a long time, one fine day, not that I planned it, one fine day they let me go on the basis that... I was invited to Bartolomějská for some interview connected with my previous trip to the United States. And there I was told in no uncertain terms... Or I shall say. I was asked if I had met any Czechs abroad. So, I said: 'Yes, every day, every week.' Because I was working on tourist ships in the United States, where there were a lot of Czech immigrants who were going on vacation normally. I had my program there with my band where we played as part of the tour program, so to speak. And at the Bartolomějská they said to me: ‘If somebody gives you some literature, you have to bring it to us. And I more or less answered that... the answer was spontaneous and based on how I was brought up. I said that my father, who is a war veteran, advised me not to meddle in any political matters. Based on that, they left me alone. That was my last visit."

  • "I saw with my own eyes the territory of the camps for people who thought differently, who were against the regime. And in one town in particular, there was a possibility that as part of a trip we went on a small boat across the water. On the other side there was a so-called zone. Seven barbed wires. We could stay and watch the guards walking their dogs, and we were standing in the dock and couldn't get off the boat. But I saw with my own eyes the seven barbed wires. And at that time, it was said that even if somebody crossed those seven wires, they couldn't swim that river, those say a hundred, hundred and fifty yards wide, because they would freeze in it. Talking about those camps, I saw with my own eyes in 1973, when we were coming back from the concerts every day at night, I saw the huge light fences of those camps. And the eye couldn't see the end of those lights. So, everything that Solzhenitsyn wrote, I basically saw with my own eyes to some extent."

  • "The beginning was so almost comical, because I almost didn't speak any Czech. And in order for me to be able to perform here, there were so-called qualifying rehearsals organized by Pragokoncert. And I got there, just greeted. And there it consisted of three parts. First I had to play, then I had one as a theoretical exam and the third was a kind of an interview. I performed, there was no need to talk. When they found out that I knew the theory, because they gave me a piece of paper and there were some things that are given as in music, I listed there. And when that interview came up, I said, 'When they asked me what the National Assembly was, I told them to ask my wife, who was sitting next to the commission.'“

  • "It was a huge euphoria, because we were actually leaving just before it broke out here. We left in October and had a tour by the end of January across Europe with a Broadway show. There were about thirty-five or thirty-six of us - a band, singers from America, UNO, such a well-known dance group that started performing, so they went with us too. And we more or less experienced it by the fact that when we had some... sometimes we had a day off, we rented a car, we came to Prague and we symbolically waved those keys at the Wenceslas square."

  • "And one fine day the boys came touring, and I actually went on tour at the beginning of the third year and I never went back to school. I just started my artistic life and a lot of traveling. So my first such big trip was far east, to Sakhalin, which is some thirteen thousand kilometers from the city where I stayed at that time. I spent about three quarters of the year there during the worst winter imaginable. The whole region, the east, Siberia and Russia. And by the time I came back, my school somehow ... I put it on the sidelines and I've already started the concert track."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 08.09.2021

    duration: 01:22:05
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 2

    Praha , 25.01.2023

    duration: 01:38:18
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Hunger and fear breed evil

Lev Rybalkin in 1976
Lev Rybalkin in 1976
photo: archiv pamětníka

Lev Rybalkin was born on 14 January 1952 in the former Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). His father, Alexander, came from a family of landowners whose property was confiscated in the 1920s; he himself worked as a photographer. His father was wounded in World War II, in which he and his wife lost their first-born daughter. Mother Rozálie was seriously ill and died prematurely. Lev Rybalkin played the piano from the age of five and entered the eleven-year-old music school in Kishinev in the first grade. He then went on to study at the Leningrad Academy of Music. However, he was forced to leave the school to participate in a musical tour lasting several months. He and his band then performed in the Far East, where he also saw labour camps behind barbed wire. In 1975 he married and followed his wife to Czechoslovakia. He played with many bands and eventually formed his own. He left with it for America in 1982, returning there regularly throughout the 1980s. At that time, Russian citizenship brought him certain advantages. He played with Maria Rottrová, Petra Janů, Jitka Zelenková and, after the Velvet Revolution, Marta Kubišová. He also worked with a number of foreign artists. He continues to give concerts, is the service manager for foreign guests of the Karlovy Vary International Jazz Festival and runs his own brand of interior decorations. At the time of recording (2023) he was living in Prague.