Phyllis Chen | Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College | Classical | Chicago Reader

Phyllis Chen Recommended All Ages Soundboard

When: Fri., Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m. 2009

New York-based pianist Phyllis Chen can hold her own playing the classical repertoire on a conventional instrument, but over the past decade she’s become one of the world’s leading proponents of the toy piano. Margaret Leng Tan precedes her as a virtuoso on it, but I know of no one doing as much to establish its legitimacy now. The tracks I’ve heard from a forthcoming CD of Chen’s prove that the instrument’s principal limitation is that so few people treat it as respectfully as she does. In a 2005 Karlheinz Essl composition called “Kalimba,” which combines live performance with prerecorded toy piano played through a loudspeaker inside the instrument, it attains an otherworldly percussive resonance; in her own “The Memoirist” it’s dignified enough that not even the kitschier elements (Chen playing a music box and frying an egg) can make it sound goofy. Recently she founded the Uncaged Toy Piano Composition Competition to encourage new works (deadline for the second contest is in June), and her program for this concert includes a performance of the first winner, Georg Hajdu’s “Tsunami,” and pieces by Nathan Davis, Andrian Pertout, and John Cage. —Peter Margasak

Price: $10 suggested donation, $5 suggested donation

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