Kathleen Supové’s ‘Exploding Piano’ recital at Atlas gets lost in the clutter

February 8, 2012

The ’80s retrospective that began with Madonna’s Super Bowl performance as a cheerleading Cleopatra dancing for world peace continued Tuesday night with one of Kathleen Supové’s “Exploding Piano” recitals as part of the new new-music series at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

For three decades, Supové has sought to detonate the conventions of the piano’s repertory and presentation. The meager crowd did not offer any evidence that cluttering the experience with video projections, audio tracks or the sexagenarian Supové’s Madonna-like concert dress did anything to attract a larger audience.

Missy Mazzoli’s “Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos,” from 2007, was as good as it got, with snatches of a Schubert piano sonata invading the chaotic texture of both recorded track and live piano. Here and in most of the pieces the recorded track conveniently covered the insecure technique of Supové’s hands, as in the interminable toccata “The Same Sky,” composed by Carolyn Yarnell in 2000. More like the same arpeggio figuration, over and over, with the recorded track noodling alone at one point as Supové removed a ring from her finger mid-performance.

Anna Clyne’s “On Track,” from 2007, was much the same, with a video featuring digital shards accompanying a jagged ostinato motif in the piano. Little flashes interrupted, as if the spool of sound were going off track, another example of Clyne’s fascination with the phenomenon of recorded sound. (Riccardo Muti will conduct the world premiere of Clyne’s latest piece with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where she is a composer-in-residence, later this week.) The Yamaha piano on stage was tuned (or not tuned) in such a way that it clashed with most of the recorded tracks, including “What Remains of a Rembrandt” by Supové’s husband, Randall Woolf. Written for her “Digital Debussy Project,” it quoted from Debussy’s music and evoked the percussive repetition of the gamelan, which so influenced the French composer, but the piece is in dire need of some cuts.

Neil Rolnick’s “Digits,” meant to be the showstopping conclusion, was marred first by a problem with the audiovisual element, leading Supové to restart the piece after a couple of minutes, and then by the lack of agility in Supové’s fingers, revealed by the relatively low level of the audio track.


Pianist Kathleen Supove (Robin Holland/Robin Holland)

If this is the alternative, some of us like the piano recital just as it is.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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