Margaret Leng Tan: Cabinet of Curiosities (CANCELLED)

Margaret Leng Tan, piano

Cabinet of Curiosities
Margaret Leng Tan photo by Kong Chong Yew

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Margaret Leng Tan has established herself as a major force within the American avant-garde.Tan, whose work embraces theatre, choreography, performance, has been called “the diva of avant-garde pianism” by The New Yorker. She is renowned as a pre-eminent John Cage interpreter (her mentor of eleven years) and for her performances of American and Asian music that transcend the piano’s conventional boundaries. She has been hailed as “the queen of the toy piano” (The New York Times) and “the toy piano’s Rubenstein” (The Independent, UK). In 2015 she celebrated her 20th anniversary as a pioneer of the toy piano. Critics acknowledge her as the world’s first toy piano virtuoso who has elevated a humble toy to the status of a real instrument.

Cabinet of Curiosities is an evening of music-theater works performed on pianos large and small, and all manner of toy instruments from bicycle horns to a hand-cranked music box. Encompassing nostalgia and merriment, the miniature and the monumental, the program opens with 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 the “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired Hatta from young English composer, James Joslin. Celebrating Alice’s 150th birthday, Tan takes us down the rabbit hole as Joslin’s miniature music drama unfolds on toy pianos, an amplified chess set/tea set, electric kettle and mechanical clock, all presided over by the Cheshire Cat! Tan’s treatment of David Wolfson’s Twinkle, Dammit! turns it into a toy piano parody of childhood piano lessons. 

Finally, Curios, by Chinese-American composer Phyllis Chen, was a commission from the 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts celebrating Tan’s seventieth birthday. Curios is a six-part multimedia work that draws the audience into a musical and theatrical Cabinet of Curiosities (a “Wünderkammer”) revolving around the bizarre, bewitching world of the carnival. Whether it be a roomful of carousels or a magic lantern, the “Wünderkammer” beckons us to enter a novel visual-and-sound world with Tan as our guide.


  • David M. Gordon: Diclavis Enorma
  • Alvin Lucier: Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever)
  • James Joslin: Hatta
  • David Wolfson: Twinkle, Dammit!
  • Phyllis Chen: Curios

Video of Margaret Leng Tan performing “CURIOS”


Margaret Leng Tan photo by Christian Carroll

Margaret Leng Tan photo by Christian Carroll


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Video of Margaret Leng Tan performing “CURIOS”