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Shattering of the Mind

New York
BargeMusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn
06/15/2011 -  
“Here and Now”
Julia Wolfe Compassion
Lainie Fefferman Barnacles (NY premiere)
Alvin Curran Inner Cities (Number 9) (1992-2011)
Michael Gatonska: A Shaking of the Pumpkin
Frederic Rzewski: Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues

Kathleen Supove (piano)

K. Supove (© Miriam Hendel)

Kathleen Supove won’t win any awards for Proper Piano Posture. She hovers over her instrument like a King Cobra, or curls over the inner strings like a boa constrictor, and then hammers away at the wires and keys like a Burmese krait, sinking her fangs (or in this case, her fingers) on every segment of the piano.

Then again, Ms. Supove frequently calls her recitals “The Exploding Piano.” Last night’s piano didn’t explode. It t did thunder, grumble, boom, shout, rock and (since BargeMusic is on the East River) roll as well.

But this was in a good cause. Ms. Supove played five American works, giving them all the pizzazz necessary. Her garrulous stories between each work were sometimes self-deprecating, but she is a fearless performer. A star with Bang on a Can, the Philip Glass Ensemble, Composers Collaborative, and in Darmstadt, she has the chops and technique to make this music jump into the audience.

At the same time, like Shakespeare’s hammy actor, Bottom, she could “Roar as gently as any sucking dove…roar as ‘twere a nightingale” Ms. Supove was not afraid to hit endless chords violently, as in Julia Wolfe’s reaction to Nine-Eleven. But she was equally courageous in playing the slower section of Frederic Rzewski’s violent Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues with the lackadaisical languor of a Hoagy Carmichael ballad.

Ms. Supove claimed that the recital was an elegy for the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Centre, but that was a stretch. True, Julia Wolfe’s Compassion with its single repeated notes and its sforzando dissonant chords gave an ardent picture of the horror. (Ms. Wolfe had witnessed the event when taking her child to school, and wrote it barely a month later.)

L. Fefferman (© Coco T. Dawg)

But the next work, Barnacles by Lainie Fefferman, written for the pianist, was, if not a gentler work, a work of gentler temperament.

It started with a voice asking “What would Debussy have been writing today?”. We all might answer it differently, but Ms. Fefferman was obviously thinking of Debussy’s The Engulfed Cathedral. Mr. Supove never took her foot off the pedal, so the sounds were blurred, both inside and outside the piano (along with some electronic buzzing). The ten-note chord clusters seemed a blur, but out of the blur came some whole-tone scales, some intimations of themes, yet always over the thick texture of the chords.

I was especially interested in hearing an extended Alvin Curry Inner Cities piece. Ms. Supove calls this ninth of the Inner Cities “meditative”, and, like his others, it begins with a hypnotic repetition of notes, then tangled note within notes within notes. One can become quite transfixed by the sounds in this 21-minute work, but the piano then starts which was de rigueur for the concert, great blazoning chords in the bass, taking us out of our revery.

The last time I had heard an Inner City piece, Mr. Curry segued from meditation to Johnny Green’s Body and Soul, and it fit. Here, he intimated the slow movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata, before moving on to more popular, even jazzy passages.

M. Gatonska (© Coco T. Dawg)

Kathleen Supove’s piano is evidently a force of nature, and Michael Gatonska’s A Shaking of the Pumpkin was a compositional force of nature. Mr. Gatonska, a student of Penderecki, is singular not only a composer, but, like Harry Partch, makes the inventions to go with the music.

In this case, his work, like some of Janácek, was illustrating our friends from the field and the stream. The composer told me that the animals are actually listed in the score, but Ms. Supove’s fingerswere too giddy for me to separate badger, woodchuck, bird, butterfly, worm, mosquito, and beaver. I suppose her soundless scurrying on the keys was a moth, and her punching inside the box was a fox, but other than that, this was intriguing music by a man who is not bound by the piano itself.

The end was Frederic Rzewski, that grand grand grand composer of Leftist anthems, jazz, variations, insanely difficult music (like all of the music last night) and–again, like all the music–drawing pictures as well.

He didn’t draw a picture of farmland animals or cathedrals or emotions of a tragedy, but of the cotton mills in a North Carolina town, the grinding machinery and the protests than came above it.

Nothing, absolutely nothing was effete or coy in this program. Kathleen Supove played a recital which was as American as...well, not as American as apple pie. It was as American as bombs, protests, varmints and the mysterious , and frequently shattering inner cities of the mind.

Harry Rolnick



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