Photo courtesy of Eric Brucker, used with permission of EMPAC Rensselaer.
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Photo courtesy of Eric Brucker, used with permission of EMPAC Rensselaer.
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Photo courtesy of Eric Brucker, used with permission of EMPAC Rensselaer.
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Photo courtesy of Eric Brucker, used with permission of EMPAC Rensselaer.
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Kate Soper is an award-winning composer, performer and co-director of The Wet Ink Ensemble, and her latest work, IPSA DIXIT will be presented February 3rd and 4th at Dixon Place in NYC. Lead  by Ms. Soper on vocals, IPSA DIXIT is on the cutting edge of contemporary chamber music and vocal performance. Helmed by up and coming director Ashley Tata, the production draws on texts by a range of literary voices that call understandability and artistic expression into question. Soper regularly performs as a soprano on new works by emerging composers with Wet Ink.   

At just 35 years old, Kate Soper has received critical acclaim for her work and is the recipient of major awards including Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Koussevitzky Foundation and ASCAP and has been commissioned by ensembles that include Los Angeles Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall.  She has received residencies and fellowships from Civitella Raineri, the Macdowell Colony, and Tanglewood, among others, and is the Iva Dee Hiatt Professor of music at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Kate recently spoke to AXS about this play and her experiences in theater:

AXS: What was your initial inspiration for IPSA DIXIT? To what does the title of the piece refer?

Kate Soper (KS): The spark for IPSA DIXIT came from my realization that a handful of works I had written separately were in fact deeply intertwined, and my desire to make this connection explicit by weaving them together with newly-composed works to make a single experience.  I was also motivated to write the piece so that I could spend more time working with the wonderful and talented artists involved! IPSA DIXIT is the feminized form of "Ipse Dixit" (literally "he, himself, said it"), which is a term describing a fallacious claim made on the basis of the authority of the claimer alone.  E.g.: "I don't need to prove that what I say is true, it's true because I said so!" The piece relates to the title in its exploration of all the ways truth can be hidden, via demonstrations of how music can distort the meaning of words, how a singer's privileged status among instrumentalists can be challenged, and how gut feeling can overrule reason in both art and life.

AXS: You have been working on this piece for nearly six years. What have been some major milestones in its development?

KS: IPSA DIXIT was premiered movement by movement, from 2011 to 2016, and each of these first performances was a milestone. Major milestones also occurred when we started fitting the movements together, in performances at New Music New College in Sarasota, at a summer festival in New Hampshire, on the Resonant Bodies festival in New York in fall 2015, and at Smith College, where we played the entire work for the first time.  The most recent milestone was our week-long residency at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center where we added lights, video, costumes, and staging under the direction of Ashley Tata to bring the piece fully to life.

AXS: How did you come to work with both Wet Ink Ensemble and Dixon Place?

KS: I joined the Wet Ink Ensemble shortly after moving to NYC in 2004. Wet Ink is a collective of composers and performers, but also composer/performers, so it was a great leap not just into a group of fantastic composers whose work I admired but into the world of experimental classical vocal performance. I was first hooked up with Dixon Place through Morningside Opera when they co-produced my opera "Here Be Sirens" in 2014, and the experience was so comfortable and creative that I was eager to return for another big project.

AXS: In your young career, you’ve already received high praise and accolades. Is there one in particular that you are especially proud of?

KS: Praise and accolades are wonderful and encouraging and I feel extremely lucky for all the opportunities that I've been given.  What I'm always most proud of, though, is pulling off the work itself, and feeling exhausted but exhilarated after a strenuous performance developed over hundreds of hours with inspiring collaborators!  I also felt very honored to be recognized by an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for my vocal music in spring 2016--and it was fun to have my picture in the New Yorker in summer 2014.

AXS: How many original works have you composed? Do you have any favorites or pieces that you would like to revisit?

KS: I've been composing since I was very young, so it's hard to estimate how many works I've written at this point!  Some pieces that have a special place in my heart (aside from IPSA DIXIT) include my first opera "Here Be Sirens" and "Voices from the Killing Jar," a large-scale work I premiered with Wet ink in 2012.  I've revisited both in excerpted performances and look forward to seeing someone else perform them in their entirety someday, so that I can experience them from the outside.

AXS: What do you hope people come away with after seeing one of your productions?

KS: I hope people come away from a show of mine having been provoked, entertained, amused, charmed, captivated--in other words, I hope to engage them in a meaningful way that lingers and makes an impact!  Every production, for me, is an exploration of ideas that I find deeply fascinating but can't fully explain, so I always want to involve the audience in the questioning process and make them feel as though we're experiencing something together--in the midst of spectacle, beauty, and surprise.

AXS: What do you find most rewarding about composing and performing?

KS: The most rewarding thing about composing and performing is the utterly unique platform it gives me to fully plumb the depths of an idea or story or concept with everything I've got. Compiling a long libretto and setting it to music is an intensely internal process that lets me spend hours immersing myself in research and thought, and this process is perfectly balanced by the explosion of extroverted energy it takes to embody the result in performance. I find that through writing, composing, and performing I'm able to create a richer experience than I could do through any one of those activities alone.

AXS: Do you see further development and stage life for IPSA DIXIT in the future? Do you have any other pieces in development?

KS: Wet Ink and I are already planning excerpted performances of IPSA DIXIT for the future, and I hope to find another home for the full production. Currently I am deep in the wilds of a new opera, "The Romance of the Rose," which will be my most ambitious project to date in terms of scope, concept, and production. It's a gigantic project and I'm both loving the writing process and excited at the thought of bringing it to life onstage!

AXS: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the performance world?

KS: To someone aspiring to enter the performance world I would say: take as many risks as you can, do what excites you even if it’s terrifying, and let go of all fear of embarrassment!  I am an introverted person by nature and it took a long time for me to work up the nerve to let loose in performance, but there is nothing quite like being on stage and letting the performance instinct override any inhibiting sense of decorum.  Try new things, be generous onstage, and most importantly: seek out people you admire and like, whose musical values you share, and create your own opportunities together.

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For tickets and information, visit the official Dixon Place website. To learn more about Kate Soper visit her official website.