Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Kathleen Supové at First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn NY 3/26/10

Anyone who assumes that avant garde piano is precious or stuffy needs to see Kathleen Supové. Last night she brought her deadpan wit and her Exploding Piano (that’s how she bills her live show) to the monthly adventurous-music program at Brooklyn Heights’ First Presbyterian Church, which seems to be doing double duty as comfortable neighborhood hang and avant garde central for the budget-conscious (suggested donation was ten bucks). “It’s unusual for the Exploding Piano to be in a church. It’s even more unusual for me to be in a church,” Supové explained. But she likes this place, and it proved to be sonically well-suited to a program characteristically rich with ideas, emotion and just plain good fun.

2010 being Louis Andriessen’s seventieth birthday year, there’s a lot of Andriessen happening around town, so it made sense that this bill would have a couple of his works. She opened by handing out rose petals to the audience and then launching into The Memory of Roses, scored for piano, toy piano – and rose. It began poignantly and minimalistically and went creepy fast, the two keyboards in tandem creating a classically Andriessen bell-like tone and a quite disquieiting ambience. The other, Trepidus, Supové deadpanned, “Is where the performer is physically abused to win the approval of the audience.” Most of it is a seemingly endless series of fast, percussive fortissimo chords employing a lot of adjacent notes to enhance the unease factor. It is extremely taxing to play, requiring the perfect timing of Bach and the vigor of Liszt, and Supové was more than up to the challenge. It finally wound down with a darkly austere, tersely conversational section somewhat evocative of Rachmaninoff’s C Sharp Minor Prelude, an eerily delicious treat (and welcome relief for the performer).

A Shaking of the Pumpkin, by Michael Gatonska (who’d come all the way down from Hartford for the concert) intermingled alternately plaintive and playful snatches of melody amidst furious atonal cascades in the low and midrange along with passages where the performer smacks and plays both the interior and the exterior with mallets, building to a Day in the Life-style crescendo where the piano roared and hummed with overtones for the better part of a minute. And then Supové picked her spot with a single, stark chord and got another thirty seconds of sustained overtones out of the beast. She contrasted this with a couple of Alvin Curran’s Inner Cities pieces, something akin to Satie playing a blues on Pluto (where a year goes by a lot more slowly), and then Jacob Ter Veldhuis ( AKA Jacob TV)’s current youtube hit The Body of Your Dreams. For those who haven’t hear it yet, it’s a mashup of live piano and samples from a tv infomercial for a weight-loss gadget – as it turned out, Supové had managed to find one, which she passed around the audience in its smart little plastic carrying case. The sound engineer ran the cd while Supové resisted the urge to break a smile, matter-of-factly supplying the soundtrack, which seems to be as much a parody of disco, bad pop and music for tv commercials as the piece as a whole mocks crass consumerism.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Miori Sugiyama Plays Chopin at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 2/6/10

A fresh, vigorous, potently counterintuitive interpretation of iconic Chopin works for solo piano. Miori Sugiyama’s formidable technique is matched by an equally fine-tuned emotional intelligence- she gets this music – and a hair-trigger detector for devices that might cross the line into cliche. Those she wanted nothing to do with. No disrespect to Chopin, but Romantic piano music can be just as stylized as any other genre and there are places where it’s hardly difficult to figure out what he wrote to pay the bills, and what came straight from the heart. Sugiyama wasted no time in going for authenticity of emotion. From a contemporary perspective, it wouldn’t be completely accurate to describe how she tackled the program as radical – no electronics or rock band were involved – but sixty years ago it would have been. When a familiar trope loomed, she’d get a running start and go sailing over it, sidestep it with a jump or a quick turn or simply trample it in a stampede to get to the good stuff. It was as effective a performance as it was personal and individual.

The Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 benefited vastly from a strikingly rubato approach: Sugiyama didn’t let the courtly waltziness of much of it fake her out a bit, uncovering every raw, resonant tonality she could find. A pair of nocturnes (F Sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2 and C Sharp, Op. 27, No. 2) gave her less of an opportunity to mine for that kind of treasure: in her hands, they glimmered comfortably but not complacently. By contrast, the Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 was a breathtaking showcase for a lightning sostenuto attack, rushing rapids punctuated by pregnant pauses, if ever so brief before the torrents returned. Ironically, the one piece that might have benefited from a straight-up reading instead of an attempt to find its inner menschkeit was the Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 31, a staple of classical radio for decades whose martial theme stops just short of bombast (with that one, the temptation is to ham it up Victor Borge style). Sugiyama wound up the program with an inspired, fluid precision that defied another kind of serious rocking as river waves got the barge swaying, definitely not in time with the music. The Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise in E Flat, Op. 22, more of a real nocturne than anything else on the bill, was given the chance to build gracefully. Sugiyama then blasted through a minuet passage, got it out of the way and brought the intensity to redline with molten-metal glissandos leading inexorably to a fiery conclusion.

Miori Sugiyama is also playing the big upcoming Chopin marathon at the World Financial Center, March 1-5: watch this space.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment