Possessor of an impeccable touch, pianist Kathleen Supové is one of those compelling performers who truly communicates her unique personality through her playing, as she did at Thursday night’s performance at Roulette in Brooklyn. The concert was one of several related to Supové’s Digital Debussy project, for which she has commissioned new works that draw inspiration in some way from Claude Debussy.

Kathleen Supové © Robin Holland
Kathleen Supové
© Robin Holland

Dedicating her set to the memory of Estie Neuringer (a supporter of new music and “a great lady”), Supové began with Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell by Matt Marks. The piece opened with lovely meandering lines in the piano, and odd, hollow echoing sounds from the accompanying soundtrack. The combination of the toneless, echoing sound, into which brief moments of a drumbeat would emerge, with the alternately touching and triumphant tonal melodies had a somewhat ominous effect.

The première performance of Flaming Pairs by Eric Lyon followed. The only piece on Supové’s program not to include a soundtrack, Lyon describes the concept for his work as “of a curious and playful alien who encounters some music of terrestrial origin”. Accordingly, the arcane texture was filled in by occasional fast and full upward-moving arpeggios, which later in the piece were revealed to be quasi-quotations of Debussy’s Clair de Lune (particularly the arpeggios that happen at about two minutes in and then again at the end).

Next was the lush Barnacles by Lainie Fefferman, which featured continuous trills, tremolos and the like to create a bubbling current of sound. At certain moments Supové would reach inside the piano to pluck or bang with her fist on the lower strings, the latter creating a reverberant wash. All of this was accompanied by a soundtrack that included pre-recorded clips of Supové talking with Fefferman about Debussy.

Taking its title from the essay by Jean Genet, Randall Woolf’s What Remains of a Rembrandt sounded akin to a tone poem, exploring a wide variety of moods and textures during the course of its eighteen or so minutes. Woolf explains that in his search for “some commonality in our deeper selves”, he found that he and Debussy use form in similar ways, “by moving dreamily from one idea to the next, without logical connections.” And so we hear moments like the beginning, in which synthesized strings swell and recede through the speakers while the piano plays a mysterious, crystalline melody, and later on a moment populated by aggressive and rhythmic gestures in the left hand, which is then directly followed by a moment of light glissandi.

Opening the evening’s program was tuba player Melvyn Poore and sound artist Cort Lippe in a set of four original compositions for tuba and electronics. Two of the pieces, written by Poore in the 70s, featured a more straightforward approach to the electronics component, while two pieces from 2009 were more sophisticated in their use of technology. One, Two, Three (1976) and Tubassoon (1979) were both shorter pieces, the former using a delay system to create a layered sound of musical gestures (an impressive exercise in timing), the latter finding some of the tubing removed from the instrument so that microphones could be placed inside the openings (the title refers Poore’s use of a bassoon reed in place of a brass mouthpiece).

In Lippe’s piece, aptly titled Music for Tuba and Computers, the tuba notes triggered various synthesized sounds, simultaneously transforming the sound of the tuba itself. The piece was full of stark contrasts, as timbres that resembled accordions and didgeridoos were bluntly overridden in sharp flashes and violent billows of pure sound effects.

Poore’s Death Be Not Proud was similarly stark in its juxtaposition of tone and effect, as he eerily whispered the poem into his mouthpiece while sudden burst of synth sounds (they reminded me of sci-fi movie spaceships) bounced all around the room via the surrounding four-speaker PA system. By the end, though, we were back to the natural world, as Poore finished the poem to the sound of pattering raindrops.