Kathleen Supové

Photo courtesy of Miriam Hendel

Kathleen Supové, a fabulous pianist (aka The Exploding Piano) and colorful fixture of the New York new music scene had a few mintues to chat with The Glass about several things she’s done of interest, and along with a really cool music-installation project, I was so amazed that she is also part of a prog-rock band called Dr. Nerve, thanks to a Facebook photo that just popped up (When I assumed she was “sitting in” with the band, Kathy reassured me she’s IN this band).

By the way, if you are in the NY area, Kathy is performing along with many other artists such as Phyllis Chen, Miguel Frasconi, Stephen Gosling, Patrick Grant, and Shoko Nagai among others at The Stone for the Cage100 Festival on Thursday, September 5th at 8 PM and 10 PM.

Kathy spoke to me via her husband composer Randy Woolf‘s skype account.

CM: Can you talk about the Joan La Barbara project you did called Storefront Diva?

Kathleen: It’s on my list of favorite and memorable things I’ve done. And unique. I give credit first to Joan La Barbara’s great vision of it, and then to Aleksandar Kostic and Marija Plavsic, who designed the amazing set and my costume. Joan had some really specific instructions on how to approach the “role”.

At first, I thought nothing of being in the window for 4 hours, but when I finally went to do it, I suddenly stopped and thought: “Oh my God, what am I going to do here for 4 hours?!” ha ha I had tasks, though, resin-ing the fishing line to bow the strings, arranging the music, practicing the music, just walking around, taking breaks. But it was challenging: first, to block out the noise from the street (which was very audible to me); people were making comments, reacting to me. BUT I didn’t want to react to them at all! The movements and activities had to feel inward, but at the same time, be stylized..that was the real task at hand…how to be compelling without actually performing!

Joan La Barbara: Storefront Diva (Phase one; Video installation, Aleksandar Kostić; NYC: 12/27/11)

CM: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Victoria Bond piece you were involved with called “The Page-Turner”. It was great that you did this sort of comedy-performance art thing.

Kathleen: I really got from working with her–She basically directed that, and she really could be a director. Maybe because she writes opera, but she really could be an opera director. I really thought she had such a sense of how to time that, and what to do, and I thought it was really up there with some theater directors I worked with. It was really fun because I could play out all the things that happened to me via page turners and the way in which page-turners drive us nuts, and stuff like that, yet we need them!

Oleg Dubson, who played the pianist–he’s actually never studied an instrument, he’s an actor, and I knew him though Corey Dargel, and I thought we got to get him because he looks like one of those Russian pianists right off the boat, and he is in fact Russian–he just had the look, and it was easy to play the page-turner as if she has a crush on him. It’s a tour-de-force and it was a lot of fun to do that night, and that was a great venue for it!

Victoria Bond’s THE PAGE TURNER (w/Kathleen Supové and Oleg Dubson; St. Peter’s Church, NYC; 4/26/11)

CM: For so many years, this music has been happening, and I haven’t really been a part of it, I’ve really only been getting dribs and drabs of it from PBS, NPR, Q2–different things that will spill culture upon the mainstream society by accident. I feel like once I started doing The Glass, and once I started exploring more artistic fields, then that opened me up to so much more, and now that I’ve discovered you and everybody else over the course of the past 3 years, it’s really made life a lot easier. At the same time, it’s been harder because there isn’t enough hours in the day to listen to everything! What you do is wonderful!

Kathleen: I see what you’re up against, because everywhere you look, especially here in New York, it’s so dense with composers doing really interesting things that have a potential audience. When I see all sorts of venues opening up as a result, it isn’t even a question of the composers getting into the venues, but the venues are sprouting up to accommodate all of it.

CM: Well, there’s so many of them–There’s The Flea Theater, where you do “Music With a View” (a music series that Kathleen is the curator of), and there’s The Stone, Galapagos, LPR–All really good spots that don’t have to be like Alice Tully or Carnegie.

Kathleen: Yeah, and it’s not even a question of whether we like the space, but just that there’s so many options now for places. I don’t know if you are aware of what The Brooklyn Philharmonic is doing, but Randy is the composer/mentor for it, and they are doing a project where they are taking crossover people who don’t have training writing for ensembles. They might have a band of their own, who are terrific musicians and are doing something really unique, but who don’t have specific experience writing for classical ensembles, and Randy is the person that sort of advises them how to do that. They’re really creating a whole new body of work, and bringing in a whole new audience.

Charlie Looker, who plays in the band Extra Life, a really interesting band, is a terrific singer, but he’d never written for other instruments–he’s also a guitarist, and he did this just to see how he’d write for an ensemble, and see how beautiful it is. And then he has a whole following of people that come in and go, “Oh wow! This is really neat! A chamber orchestra playing pieces by Charlie!”, so the world keeps opening up–I was going to say “South of 14th Street”, but I wouldn’t want to limit it to that!

CM: You’re referring to downtown, specifically?

Kathleen: Yeah, but I guess I don’t really mean “uptown vs. downtown”, because what I see now is a merging of them, and I see that many good aspects or “uptown” are incorporated, and nobody has any issues about putting atonal music into something.

CM: It seems like in the 70s, maybe there was no real issue with it, but, when I was just a kid and I was listening to the New York Philharmonic or listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra broadcasts on WQXR, they would play contemporary pieces–One time, they featured Final Alice by David Del Tredici, and I freaked out, and turned it off! I couldn’t listen to it. Occasionally, you’d hear some kind of contemporary piece or something that was written in the late 20th century, and it would sound strange to the ears of someone who was used to Tchaikovsky or anyone from the popular romantic period of classical. I was not really well-versed in new music. It took several more years, because then I would hear things like Pines of Rome, or Planets. That kind of stuff sets you up for more progressive music.

Kathleen: It does, absolutely! When I was a kid, I studied with a teacher who taught me light classics–Gershwin, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue and things like that, and I always think that that was the basis for my interest in contemporary music, and it already opened up my ears to something else, but totally, the pieces you’re mentioning, I think you’re right, it primed you to do it!

It’s funny because Randy and I talked about the Del Tredici Final Alice not so long ago because he was in Cleveland working with a group of high school composers, and he’s been playing them a lot of New York composers, and he played Final Alice for them. And this is why it’s such a controversial piece–there’s your perspective growing up on Tchaikovsky, hearing this and going “wow! This is really weird compared to Tchaikovsky!”, but then there’s the whole group of people that know Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen and that whole scene coming to it and going “Oh my God, what is going on?”

CM: So, to them it probably sounds like Handel, right? [laughs]

Kathleen: No, more like “Why is he doing this over-the-top [R.] Strauss-on-steroids thing?” But, one of the things we were noticing is that he had played some Matt Marks, which they loved! Randy sees Matt Marks as coming out of the tradition of Final Alice, but even more than he does coming out of the tradition of minimalism.

CM: And then there’s Dr. Nerve! You’re in this prog band??

Kathleen: This is Nick Didkovsky‘s band. The music is very complicated and challenging, it is so successful at being gnarly yet catchy and accessible. He’s really the master of it. When this band is on, it’s the absolute best. We were really featured at this ProgDay event, and socially, being in this band is the closest experience I have to being a rock star. Fans recognize us everywhere (and with me, it’s more unusual because there are hardly any women performing at these prog events—and then my red hair….). But it’s really such an ingenious melding of Nick’s composition and his larger than life persona, but those personalities of all the band members. And they’re ALL great guys. Really fun. Doesn’t happen often enough, because it’s very expensive to book all 8 of us. Musically, it’s difficult, you really have to pay attention, but at the same time, you get to rock out, so it rewards your attention.

Dr. Nerve perform ‘Meta 04’ at Le Poisson Rouge, NYC; 2/13/12

Kathleen is playing at The Stone Thursday, Sept. 5th as part of the Cage100 Festival. Click here for information on the show, time and admission.

Kathleen Supove, The Exploding Piano


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