Margaret Leng Tan

DIVA OF THE AVANT-GARDE QUEEN OF THE TOY PIANO

MARGARET LENG TAN has established herself as a major force within the American avant-garde; a highly visible, talented and visionary pianist whose work sidesteps perceived artificial boundaries within the usual concert experience and creates a new level of communication with listeners.

Embracing aspects of theatre, choreography, performance and even “props” such as the teapot she “plays” in Alvin Lucier’s Nothing is Real, Tan has brought to the avant-garde, a measure of good old-fashioned showmanship tempered with a disciplinary rigour inherited from her mentor John Cage. This has won Tan acceptance far beyond the norm for performers of avant-garde music, as she is regularly featured at international festivals, records often for adventurous labels such as Mode and New Albion and has appeared on American Public Television, at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

Born in Singapore, Tan was the first woman to earn a doctorate from Juilliard, but youthful restlessness and a desire to explore the crosscurrents between Asian music and that of the West led her to John Cage. This sparked an active collaboration between Cage and Tan that lasted from 1981 to his death, during which Tan gained recognition as one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Cage’s music, partly through her New Albion recordings, Daughters of the Lonesome Isle and The Perilous Night/Four Walls. She has subsequently recorded Works for Piano 4 and Works for Piano 7 for Mode Records’ Complete John Cage Edition. After Cage’s death in 1992, she was chosen as the featured performer in a tribute to his memory at the 45th Venice Biennale.

Tan takes a lively interest in the musical potential of unconventional and unlikely instruments, and in 1997 her groundbreaking CD, The Art of the Toy Piano on Point Music/Universal Classics elevated the lowly toy piano to the status of a “real” instrument. Tan is certainly the world’s first professional toy piano virtuoso. Since then her curiosity has extended to other toy instruments as well, substantiating her credo “Poor tools require better skills” (Marcel Duchamp). She Herself Alone: The Art of the Toy Piano 2, Ms. Tan’s latest toy instrumental album (mode 221 CD/DVD), has been called “one of this year’s finest treasures of new music” (Downtown Music Gallery).

Tan favours music that confronts and defies the established boundaries of the piano and has collaborated with like-minded composers to create works for her, such as Somei Satoh, Tan Dun, Michael Nyman, Julia Wolfe, Toby Twining and Ge Gan-ru; she is also a favourite of composer George Crumb. Photogenic and comfortable with the camera, Tan is the subject of a feature documentary by filmmaker Evans Chan, Sorceress of the New Piano: The Artistry of Margaret Leng Tan, which has been screened at numerous international film festivals.

In 2015, the Singapore International Festival of Arts commissioned Curios, a multimedia theatre work from Phyllis Chen for Tan, who was also awarded the Cultural Medallion – Singapore’s highest artistic accolade – in the same year.

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Reviews

…the queen of the toy piano.

The New York Times

The avant-garde hasn’t had a performer like Margaret Leng Tan in years. She's one of those rare pianists whose performance style takes equal billing with the music....[she is ] the world's premiere string piano virtuoso.”

The Village Voice

Tan is the toy piano’s Rubenstein, coaxing an immensity of feeling from a limited tonal range.

The Independent, UK

...a Singaporean national treasure.

TODAY, Singapore

Margaret Leng Tan is a keyboard virtuoso like no other...she makes it [the toy piano] into an astonishing musical vehicle...with her customary flair she turned toys into art.

San Francisco Chronicle

Upcoming Performances

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
3 October 2018
La Biennale di Venezia
62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music
Venice
Italy

TOI, TOI, TOI!
A CELEBRATION OF TOYS IN MUSIC
With Resound Collective
14 September 2018
Concert Hall, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
Singapore

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
26 April 2018
Ecstatic Music Festival
Merkin Concert Hall
New York
USA
More info here.

UNCAGED TOY PIANO FESTIVAL
8, 13 & 14 December 2017
New York City

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
8 November 2017
Barnes Foundation
Philadelphia
USA

SOUNDS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE
2 November 2017
ISSUE Project Room
New York City

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
21 October 2017
Donaueschinger Musiktage
Museum Art Plus, Donaueschingen
Germany

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
9 June 2017
Holland Festival
Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam
The Netherlands

COWELL, CAGE, CRUMB
7 May 2017
East Building Auditorium
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
USA

ODE TO SCHROEDER
1 May 2017
Schroeder Hall, Green Music Center
Sonoma State University
USA

TOY PIANO WORKSHOP
14 April 2017
New York University
Provincetown Playhouse
USA

CAGE, COWELL, CRUMB WORKSHOP
13 April 2017
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland
USA

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
12 April 2017
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland
USA

SORCERESSS OF THE NEW PIANO SCREENING
11 April 2017
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland
USA

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
28 September 2016
OzAsia Festival, Adelaide
Australia

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