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Music review: Kathleen Supove in Piano Spheres recital at Zipper

February 1, 2012 |  1:04 pm

Piano
Dressed in vibrant violet leggings and a black bodice with its strings dangling ostentatiously in front, the redheaded pianist Kathleen Supové suggests a kind of Lady Gaga without the stage entourage. Her program for Piano Spheres on Tuesday at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall was similarly striking and colorful.

Supové, a performance artist with a degree from Juilliard, revels in electronic and theatrical elements that turn a classical recital on its head. At one point, the Portland, Ore., native told audience members they were free to examine the handmade bodice “up close.”

She has commissioned more than 75 piano works in her career and has said she looks for “the kind of music Debussy would write for piano if he were alive today.”

A prime example: The trills in Lainie Fefferman’s “Barnacles,” which was written for Supové, sounded like a gloss on Debussy’s “Island of Joy,” which includes some of the most joyous trilling in the piano literature. A recorded voice, not always heard through Supové’s shimmering sound, says things like, “Evenness creates the illusion of speed.” At the end, the pianist’s fist pounding bass chords echoed Debussy’s “Engulfed Cathedral.”

In the recital's opener, London-born Anna Clyne’s “On Track,” abstract video images floated by on a screen above the stage, and a recorded voice of the queen intoned such words as, “I have lived long enough to know things don’t stay the same.” Supové expertly handled the multimedia components of Clyne’s ever-changing sonic landscape, marked by lulls requiring Supové to brush the strings inside the piano and sudden outbursts, with the pianist employing her forearm.

Carolyn Yarnell’s “The Same Sky” for piano, soundtrack and video lost some of its exotic effect, because cloud and sky images intended to be projected inside the open piano lid -- a 21st century homage to the artwork found inside harpsichord lids – were instead conventionally projected on the stage screen. Supové displayed plenty of virtuosity in a work that depends on velocity for much of its effectiveness.

After intermission, Michael Gatonska’s “A Shaking of the Pumpkin,” commissioned by Supové, conveyed a kind of carnival of the animals. At one point, the score had Supové’s hands scurrying over the top of the keys while she made animal-like mouth noises. 

A darker theater like REDCAT would have vastly improved the hazy live images of Supové’s fingers in Neil Rolnick’s “Digits,” in which notes and phrases are multiplied by a computer-processed sound coming from her Yamaha piano. Here the over-bright Zipper Hall worked against the kind of theatrical immersion Supové’s show demands.

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--Rick Schultz

Photo: Kathleen Supové at Piano Spheres. Credit: Ron Harrell.

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