Cabinet of Curiosities – new production


Margaret Leng Tan, hailed as the “queen of the toy piano” by The New York Times, returns to Singapore to celebrate her seventieth birthday year as pianist extraordinaire and multi-faceted performer.

Cabinet of Curiosities is a programme of music-theatre works performed on pianos large and small, toys and sound objects, some newly-invented. Encompassing the miniature and the monumental, the programme opens with American composer David M. Gordon’s Diclavis Enorma, engaging keyboards, microtonal call bells and tape playback. In electro-acoustic pioneer Alvin Lucier’s Nothing is Real, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever wafts from a teapot, now a musical instrument. Further invoking the Mad Hatter’s tea party is Alice in Wonderland-inspired Hatta from young English composer, James Joslin. Celebrating Alice’s 150th birthday Margaret takes us down the rabbit hole as Joslin’s miniature music drama unfolds on toy pianos, amplified chess set/tea set, electric kettle, alarm clock, all presided over by the Cheshire Cat!

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, by Shanghainese composer Ge Gan-ru, is a Peking-opera-inspired melodrama for voice, self-accompanied by a sixteen-piece toy orchestra. Ge’s musical portrayal of lost love, sorrow and everlasting regret gives dramatic utterance to Lu You’s famed 1155 A.D. poem. The New York Times called Margaret Leng Tan’s rendition of Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, “a powerfully moving experience.”

The SIFA-commissioned piece is Curios, by Chinese-American composer, Phyllis Chen. Chen elaborates: “Curios is a multimedia work that draws the audience into a musical and theatrical Cabinet of Curiosities (a “Wunderkammer”), revolving around the bizarre, bewitching world of the carnival. Whether it be a roomful of carousels or a magic lantern, the “Wunderkammer” beckons to us to enter a novel visual and sound world with Margaret as our guide. Using toy pianos, toy instruments and other oddities, Curios is inspired by an intriguing 1920s photograph Margaret gave me of three Kassino clowns. This rather grotesque, haunting image embodies our shared fascination with the carnival and is entirely in-synch with Margaret’s natural ability to convey both humour and poignancy through her artistry.”

Suitable for ages 6 to 106.