ALBUM REVIEW: The Debussy Effect from Kathleen Supové

by Maggie Molloy

Debussy’s music has a certain effect on people—a quiet way of enveloping the listener in its chromatic waves and cloudy washes of color. It’s a captivation that is difficult to put into words exactly; it’s almost as though his music softens the surrounding world and transports its listener into a hazy memory.


New York-based pianist and performance artist Kathleen Supové explores our collective fascination with Debussy in her newest album, The Debussy Effect. No stranger to new music, Supové has carved out a name for herself in New York and far beyond as an artist who is continuously pushing the boundaries of creation, composition, and even costume in classical music.

Perhaps best known for her performing enterprise the Exploding Piano, Supové’s performances consistently feature cutting-edge new music paired with electronics, video, costumes and theatrical elements, visuals, speaking, and even choreography. The Debussy Effect, though perhaps more introspective and impressionistic in nature, boasts every bit as much personality.


For this two-disc album Supové enlisted the talents of six composers to create brand new works inspired by Debussy and written for solo piano or piano with electronics. The resulting music spans the gamut from Gamelan to ragtime, bowed piano to ambient atmospheres, musique concrète to sound paintings, a sprinkle of stride piano—and a whole lot of sparkling virtuosity.


The album opens with Joan La Barbara’s “Storefront Diva, A Dreamscape,” inspired not only by Debussy but also by journals of artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell. Scored for piano and sonic atmosphere, the piece unfolds like an oceanfront dream, the hazy piano melodies twinkling amidst a tangle of bells, breath, chirping birds, ocean waves, Tibetan cymbals, and surreal storm clouds. Short flurries of bowed and plucked piano string embellishments blend the raw timbres of the piano right into the natural world around it.

It’s followed by a more cinematic (but no less dreamlike) take on Debussy: Matt Marks’ “Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell.” The piece is a duel, of sorts, between Debussy’s virtuosic “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and the 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter. Lofty piano melodies dance amidst patches of Debussy’s harmonies and time-stretched clips of Robert Mitchum with Lillian Gish singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark’s “Layerings 3” evokes the living, breathing nature of Debussy’s works: the piece layers a number of different recordings of Supové performing and interpreting the piece in full—and never the same way twice. When superimposed on one another, these distinctive recordings blend into an entire kaleidoscope of sound, the piano melodies ringing and reverberating in ever-changing harmonies and rhythmic textures.

Randall Woolf’s “What Remains of a Rembrandt” explores the elusiveness of Debussy’s music—the way it floats dreamily from one idea to the next, drawing from sources as wide-ranging as Indonesian Gamelan, early jazz, and in this case, ambient electronica. Supové’s nimble fingers dance up and down the piano keyboard in gorgeous washes of sound which valiantly defy all traditional Western notions of structure and musical form.

An electroacoustic storm gathers in Annie Gosfield’s four-movement “Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind,” a piece which combines fragments of Debussy’s dramatic piano prelude “What the West Wind Saw” with musique concrète recordings of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York while Gosfield was composing the work. The two sound sources are intertwined and electronically morphed, creating an eerie soundscape that oscillates between tumultuous winds and ghostly silences.

Daniel Felsenfeld’s “Cakewalking (Sorry Claude)” takes a more lighthearted approach: in three short movements he deconstructs Debussy’s famous Children’s Corner classic, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and turns it into a brand new swirling, twirling jazz tune with cheeky references to the original.

The album draws to a close with Jacob Cooper’s “La plus que plus que lente,” a twinkling dreamscape which incorporates time-stretched fragments of Debussy’s dazzling waltz “La plus que lente.” Supové’s fingers glide effortlessly across the densely textured piano melodies, each note sparkling like a star amidst a glittering night sky.

In fact, the whole album glistens. Supové brings personality, precision, charisma, and boundless creativity to each work, crafting a distinctly 21st century dialogue with the unforgettable work of Debussy. Equally at home in the soothing, calming color washes as she is amidst the stormy, chromatic chaos, Supové pays tribute to Impressionist master while also exploring the furthest reaches of his musical influence.

The effect Debussy has on listeners is difficult to describe—but this pianist just may have put her finger on it.


Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!

Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.

The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.

In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.

Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Howard Hersh’s “Angels and Watermarks”


by Seth Tompkins

Angels and Watermarks, a new release from Snow Leopard Music, features music of Californian composer Howard Hersh.  California-based pianist Brenda Tom performs on all three pieces on this CD, two of which are for solo keyboard.  This disc contains a delightful mix of musical styles set in the broad and colorful world of Hersh’s own modern musical language.



The final piece on the disc, Dream, for solo piano, was written as the composer was “exploring ways of incorporating tonal harmony.” Recalling, at times, some of the lighter music of Arvo Pärt, this piece unfolds slowly and delicately, repeating simple melodic lines in a manner consistent with its title.  The overall effect is one of relaxation, but not without struggle.  Resolution finally comes after the seven-minute mark, with the surprising introduction of a powerful bass note.  This is the first point in the piece when low sounds of any heft are used; it is the only moment when the piece feels at all grounded.  It is a brief moment, but quite satisfying and appropriate in the context of this largely ethereal solo.  On this track, pianist Brenda Tom’s reserve and patience are laudable.  She does not rush the development of this piece, but allows it to grow at the measured, steady pace that this type of music requires in order to be effective.

The preceding piece, Angels and Watermarks, showcases a completely different type of performance from Tom.  Here, she wholeheartedly digs into multi-faceted music that displays the harpsichord in many different lights.

In Angels and Watermarks, for solo harpsichord, Hersh has built a suite that not only fulfills its goal of displaying the harpsichord’s “historical voice,” but that also takes the instrument into relatively new places, all of which work equally well.  The title adds depth to this sonic exploration; it is taken from the title of an essay by painter Henry Miller, in which Miller describes his attempt to create authentic and personal art while inescapably conscious of the work of the generations of artists that came before.  This connection seems appropriate for a suite that clearly references past sounds while branching out in new directions.

The outer movements of Angels are the most referential to classical harpsichord styles, complete with comfortably familiar (but slightly tedious) filigree straight out of the 17th century.  Despite this traditional styling, the modern harmonies in these movements keep them interesting.  The second movement is a romping perpetuum mobile that, among other devices, uses a variety of meters and cluster chords to keep listeners on their toes.  The middle movement is perhaps the most challenging of the suite, containing the widest variety of sounds from disparate genres.  Here live ghosts of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, 20th century minimalism, impressionism, and ragtime, along with a healthy dose of ancient sounds that showcase the almost lyre-like qualities of the harpsichord.  Despite the mash-up, pianist Brenda Tom blends the styles beautifully.  The fourth movement, designed to recall the toccata, is also particularly enjoyable.  Continuing in the style-blending footsteps of the third, it includes, along with a healthy dose of straight-forward and exuberant chromaticism, a good deal of blues and an apparent (and charming) recurring reference to Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la TurkAngels and Watermarks is successful in that it seamlessly blends harpsichord sounds, both old and new, in a pleasingly contiguous way.  Hersh manages to transcend the unmistakable sound of the harpsichord in service of good music, an impressive feat.

The leading piece on this disc, Hersh’s Concerto for Piano and Ten Instruments is the collection’s best example of the full spectrum of Hersh’s original musical language.  As in the other two pieces, some genre-specific sounds (tango, swing, and bossa nova, mostly) do appear occasionally, but overall, the language here seems original and modern.   When it comes to the accompanying ensemble, Hersh has chosen the instruments well; he manages to draw an impressively wide spectrum of colors from the mid-sized ensemble.  Of particular note is the broad array in which the solo piano interacts with the ensemble; some passages are purely piano or purely ensemble, but are also a myriad colors in between in which the piano plays every role that could be expected, from melodic leader to supporting player.  Brenda Tom, as in Angels, again moves effortlessly between styles and characters, further deepening the already engaging music of the Concerto.

One of the more enjoyable characteristics about the Concerto is the light and airy quality of many of Hersh’s melodies; they manage to feel free and easy without lacking substance.  The tact of conductor Barbara Day Turner and the ensemble is notable here; such smoothness would not be possible without their adept support.  Percussionist Patti Niemi, in particular, executes Hersh’s perfectly balanced percussion parts with exceptional grace and reservation.

You can purchase this album on:
AmazoniTunes, or Arkiv Music