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Kathleen Supove Interview

Posted on 17 October 2007. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

CT talks to innovative pianist Kathleen Supove

Kathleen Supove
Tell us something about your background.

I had a combination of classical training and teenage experience with light classics, like Gershwin, Malaguena, Slaughter on 10th Avenue, stuff like that. It made for holes in my conventional repertoire, but I think it's what really instilled in me a feel for contemporary music. I went to a really amazing liberal arts college, Pomona College, in southern California. There was a lot of contemporary music there, a big tradition. Especially influential to me was this composer, Karl Kohn. After that I went to Juilliard, which was a total culture shock, and I had to work very hard to get up to standard as a hard-core pianist. Many baptisms-by-fire!! The person I learned the most from, whom I'd credit for anything good I can do at the piano, is Russell Sherman in the Boston area. Sherman + tons of experience + living in New York. Those are the things that have led me to this place.

Tell us about 'Air Rights'

Well, one of the things I want to do is ask THE AUDIENCE what they think it means! How do they think that term might apply to either the music they consume or take in as audience member, or how does a musician think of the term. I'm also interested to hear what artists from other disciplines have to say.

I guess, for me, it means using the space around the piano---using "accessories", like I'm doing in this concert---for example a big bass drum and ping pong balls---and also using the air space, filling it with, say, electronic sounds. Also the vibrations of the piano strings making their own dance in the air in, say, the tremolos of Alvin Curran's music. There are other applications, which I'm only starting to discover. And of course, there's a whole political aspect to it for the future of non-commercial music.

The term also has sentimental value to me. My father was this visionary engineer, who spent a lot of time in the '60s trying to convince the City Council of Portland, Oregon to buy up air rights for eventual parking facilities so people could walk around downtown---imagine that being a new concept at the time. The City Council didn't even know what air rights were!

When did you first get interested in new music.

Later than a lot of my colleagues! I was already in college a year or so. I didn't even know who Charles Ives was until then.

What excites you about a piece of music - what keeps you interested?

Technical difficulty and overt virtuosity is really high on the list! I guess I'm biased toward pieces where the issues of performing are "on the sleeve" of the piece, where it's up front to the audience. Of course, I'm attracted to quality, but how does one go about describing what that means? And sometimes you don't know right away, and sometimes you realize, after meeting with a composer, what he/she meant, and you suddenly see it in a higher place. I also love pieces that do something experimental.

Virtuosity often means flurries of notes, but it can also mean other things---scinitillating melodic lines, endurance, focus, it has an extended meaning.

And what turns you off ?

The opposite of the above. When I sense that a piece of music has not been thought through and seems incompetent in some way.

How do you go about programming your concerts?

I really don't know! But I like many of the programs I've made. Sometimes a grand concept will occur to me (often while I'm running or working out on the elliptical machine); other times, I've got a collection of pieces waiting to be played, and a way to put them together just occurs to me. I also do theatrics and little "sketches" between pieces, so that can also provide a glue for the performance, or maybe an anti-glue.

How do you respond to unsolicited work- do you give feedback? Do you ever commission new work yourself?

I'm sometimes negligent in writing back---please forgive me!! I mean to, but all I ever say is thanks for sending, I'm always looking for new things to do, etc. I'll also make sure they don't want things back right away. It often takes me months to get around to looking at new things. If I really like something and want to play it, then of course, I'm in touch. But I have many more good pieces sitting on my piano than I have time to learn!! I really mean that. And I regret that I can't be at least two people.

Something I never do is critique a composer about their composition. I really disapprove of performers who do that.

I commission new work myself all the time; I'm always looking for ways to fund it, too. There aren't very many.

What do you see as the role (intended and actual) of new music in the modern world?

I assume you mean concert music, non-commercial. I think its role is to take sounds that inhabit our world and make art out of them---give us something to listen to, study, ponder, be challenged by, focus on, and ultimately enrich ourselves. It's too rare of an occurrence these days.

What advice would you give to a young composer just starting out?

Listen really hard for your own voice, then listen harder, then harder, etc., etc.......

What are your plans for the future?

Well, in the immediate future I've got this Air Rights concert at The Flea Theater!! Premieres of works by Phil Kline, Missy Mazzoli, Michael Gatonska, and Miya Masaoka, as well as the first US performances of a new Inner Cities piece by Alvin Curran, dedicated to yours truly. November 4, 5, 11, 12. Visit

Globally speaking, I want to keep on doing what I'm doing, but have venues and sponsors that are able to fund the more grandiose concepts of staging and sound. Playing in New York is always the base, but I'm also trying to take my Exploding Piano concerts out into the US and abroad more. And I'm always looking for an up and coming composer who will create an outrageously great piece!

I've also enjoyed curating a concert series at The Flea Theater in NYC called Music With A View. I think it was a natural extension of what I did in my concerts---having guest performers and discovering new composers through commissioning is a form of curating anyway.

How can people find out more about you?

You can start at my website or . I'd love to get more emails with questions from interested audience members or potential audience members.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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