The toy that grew up
Many instruments have their 99-cent toy counterpart: tiny play trumpets, cheap plastic recorders, pint-sized accordions, even mini drum-kits with cymbals the size of espresso saucers. But it’s only the toy piano that has graduated to the big leagues, with an large and diverse repertoire and even a dedicated group of high-caliber performers to boost its status. I really think this all came about from two sources: John Cage‘s modest 1948 Suite for Toy Piano, and the instrument’s inclusion in George Crumb‘s highly influential Ancient Voices of Children (1970). Both of these works had (and still have) a certain vogue; pianos were obtained, kept around, and led to performers and composers thinking “now that I’ve got it, what else can I do with this thing”? Fast-forward a few decades and we now find a whole body of work from composers big and small, with piano solo, duo, trio and beyond, accompanied by everything from a few trinkets to elaborate interactive electronics. Entire concerts of toy piano music take place now, with a variety pieces and forces equal to any other chamber music concert.
Like this one… Co-Directors and composers David Claman and Matt Malsky are presenting The Extensible Toy Piano Festival at Bargemusic, with another of those said dedicated toy-piano performer/composers, Phyllis Chen– this Sunday, June 12, at 3pm (Fulton Ferry Landing near the Brooklyn Bridge / Tickets: $25 ($20 Seniors; $15 Students). Claman and Malsky started The Extensible Toy Piano Project a number of years ago, sponsoring concerts, commissions, contests and even symposia (I told you this little instrument done all growed up!). This iteration will also feature guest performers Nancy Newman and mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers, and works by Chen, Claman, Malsky, Karlheinz Essl, Konrad Kaczmarek, John McDonald, and Atsushi Yoshinaka. Here’s Chen performing one of her works that will be on the concert, Double Helix: