Kong Chong Yew
Cabinet of Curiosities
Cabinet of Curiosities is a programme of music-theatre works performed on pianos large and small, toys and sound objects, some newly-invented. Margaret Leng Tan returns to Singapore to celebrate her seventieth birthday year in a commission by the Singapore International Festival of Arts.
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.”
How she coaxed beautiful music from a hand-wound music box roll and a miniature pipe organ was sheer magic.
After all these years she continues to keep her art fresh and push the boundaries while maintaining the very highest standards. This was an extraordinary performance of music and theatre by Singapore’s foremost performance artist.
~The Straits Times
Each of Chen’s six movements was executed with absolute precision, forcing the listener to sit up and stare in awe of what miniature symphonies can be conjured out of cheap objects and instruments.
~The Business Times