It's been almost four years since Marketa Irglova, then 19, became the youngest person — and the first Czech — to win an Academy Award for music, sharing Best Original Song honors with her Once co-star (and then-boyfriend) Glen Hansard. At the Oscars ceremony, her acceptance speech was famously cut short by a premature orchestral send-off. But when host Jon Stewart shepherded her back to the microphone moments later, the soft-spoken but passionate Irglova proved herself a star in the making.
Within that context, the October release of Irglova's debut solo album — following several years of touring with Hansard as the Swell Season — seems a tad overdue. But as Irglova explains, there were never any grand ambitions in place for her own career, despite that early success. "I never really chose this for myself," she says. "Music kind of chose me, and I hopped on an already-moving train and joined the circus."
Both Once and the Swell Season were products of Irglova's relationship with Hansard. The frontman for the Irish band the Frames had personally recruited the young pianist before she'd put much thought into her own long-term goals. The couple split in 2009 (they remain friends), but it wasn't until the Swell Season went on temporary hiatus last year that Irglova decided to get to work on her own album, Anar.
"It became a totally new experience," she says. "With the Swell Season, it was mainly Glen's vision and his intentions driving it on, whereas this time it's my own vision. So there's a lot more responsibility for me to handle now, but there's also new rewards that come with it. It's very gratifying and empowering."
As an album of mostly low-key, introspective piano ballads, Anar captures Irglova in a fascinating transitional phase inspired by her move to New York, the artistic and cultural influence of her Iranian friend and collaborator Aida Shahghasemi, and a budding romance with her sound engineer Tim Iseler, whom she recently married.
In a way, Irglova's musical and romantic partnership with Iseler again mirrors the love-through-collaboration theme of Once. But even as Broadway prepares to unveil an adaptation of the movie to the stage (Irglova approves of the musical but was only loosely involved), she says she's mostly "moved on" from that period of her life, with few regrets but plenty of lessons learned.
"As much as I was absorbed in that experience, I was also very lost for much of that time and searching for answers, as so many people do at that age," she says. "I hadn't really made up my mind about what I wanted to be or where I was going. I don't think you ever really stop searching, really. But I definitely feel much more confident about my place in the world now."
Marketa Irglova, with Sean Rowe
8 p.m. Sunday, November 27, at Beachland Ballroom
15711 Waterloo Rd.
Tickets: $20, $15 in advance
pullquote: "With the Swell Season, it was mainly Glen's vision and his intentions driving it on, whereas this time it's my own vision."
caption: Still swell.