Brian Jacobson

All hail the arrival of Mistress of the Toy Piano

By - Jan 5th, 2011 04:00 am

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! by Ge Gan-ru. Photo by Michael Dames, courtesy the artist’s website.

In the old, hallowed hall now called the Todd Wehr Conference Center, a small crowd gathers on a cold winter’s night to watch an unusual documentary. Present Music is previewing its January guest artist with a screening of Margaret Leng Tan, Sorceress of the New Piano.

Up on the screen, the talented and renown pianist is thrumming and plucking the insides of a grand piano.  The noise is deep and haunting.

Before the end of film, Ms. Tan will be showcasing a new direction and sound in fine music. Sporting two toy pianos being played with separate hands, the noise is akin to a kinetic calliope that has somehow been programmed to play Beethoven.

The Singapore-born musician was the first to collect a Doctorate in the Musical Arts from Julliard, and devoured the classic masters.  Then she started the next phase in her career with some well-placed nuts and bolts along with a decade-long friendship with the late music pioneer John Cage.

It was these avant-garde collaborations with the likes of John Adams, Erik Griswold, and George Crumb that gathered the most acclaim for a relatively quiet soul with an obsessive compulsive disorder which manifests itself through music and collecting musical artifacts.

Tan doesn’t want to merely get a piece perfect as composed for a plaything (like Cage’s 1948 piece “Suite for Toy Piano”), she wants to transcend its perceived coil and have it become something beautiful.

Present Music Ensemble will join Tan onstage at the Turner Hall Ballroom this Saturday, on the heels of her sequel CD/DVD called She Herself Alone: The Art of the Toy Piano 2.  The program list looks to be a mix of pieces from the new album such as Griswold’s “Old MacDonald’s Yellow Submarine” as well as crowd favorites like “Gymnopedie #3” by Erik Satie (arranged here by Milos Raickovich) and “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!” by Ge Gan-ru.

Present Music is in the middle of a big 2010-11 season with this mid-winter concert program, officially called TOYS! featuring Margaret Leng Tan.  While the “best” section seats are listed as gone (likely the balcony area or dead front-center), $20 seats ($5 for students) are still  available.  While a background courtesy New Albion and Mode Records could only help, please watch this video for further convincing of the maestro at work.

Categories: Classical

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