Kathleen Supove

Produced with  Cool Hunting

Kathleen Supove is featured in Cool Hunting 25, a showcase, presented in partnership with Cadillac, of 25 creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Photos of flaming grand pianos and vintage uprights smashed to smithereens. YouTube clips of Liberace sledgehammering his ivories on “The Monkees” variety hour. Kathleen Supové gets a kick out of all of it, and thanks you very much, friends and fans, for sending them her way. But her “Exploding Piano” pieces aren’t quite that literal. The contemporary pianist blows up conventions of the instrument’s uses and recitals—not to mention the catharsis from taking her seat behind one of her custom-designed instruments. She rigs her Yamahas with electronics that amplify and distort the chords, outfitting them with a spandex screen that fits the inner lid like a glove, showcasing projections that further her performances. “It’s like a 21st century version of the ornately inscribed harpsichords from centuries ago,” says Supove of the imagery shown on the lid, which an extra-long pole lifts to a nearly 90-degree angle so it functions like a video screen.

That’s just one element of her genre-busting performances. “I rejected the idea of the typical pianist, even the world of the New Music concert pianist, where everyone wears black and nobody cares what you look like,” says the flame-haired, Brooklyn-based dynamo who incorporates inventive staging and costuming to add texture to her pieces. “You’re playing a role. Traditionally that role has been one of a librarian,” she deadpans. On the flipside of that, the 64-year-old is partial to a vintage pink jumpsuit by Patricia Field and can be found crawling onto the stage—when the performance calls for it. “My pieces aim to open up the audience, and provoke thought and emotion—that doesn’t have to be touchy-feely, but some thought about humanity.”

For her next project, “Digital Debussy,” due out this fall, the 2012 ASCAP John Cage award recipient commissioned various composers to interpret or reimagine Debussy’s music for her. “I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring,” she says of the compositions one can expect to hear. “I particularly like pieces written in the last five years or just out of the oven.” Her husband, composer Randy Woolf contributed a piece in homage to Debussy’s voyage to Bali, complete with Vietnamese gongs (“you feel like you’re in the middle of a jungle”), and an actual Debussy snippet that is “so processed you can’t tell its origin.” An earlier number in the series, “Storefront Diva,” was composer Joan La Barbara’s interpretation of a dream that artist Joseph Cornell had in which Debussy played in a storefront. Supove brought that piece to life in an empty storefront on Bleeker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, during a four-hour performance that surprised, confounded and delighted passersby.

“I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring.”

The Aleksandar Kostić and Marija Plavšić Kostić-designed space was a vision in white, right down to the actual piano and the pianist’s costume—all, she says with a laugh, except her hair and matching orange pedicure.

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