Phyllis Chen, piano
Phyllis is a composer, keyboardist and creative force whose work draws from her tactile exploration of objects and sound. Described by the Washington Post as “a virtuoso of the toy piano, she delights in the delicate sonorities of music boxes and everyday objects, weaving them into strikingly original works of engaging lightness and transparency.(…)Chen is a master of the art of play — serious, serious play.”
Unlike the piano, the unrefined but beautiful tone of the instrument captured an ever-changing quality that has inspired Phyllis to use it in a variety of solo and chamber works. She has created several original miniature theatre works (The Memoirist, The Slumber Thief and Down The Rabbit-Hole) in collaboration with her partner and video artist, Rob Dietz. One of her latest large-scale solo works, Lighting The Dark, uses a variety of keyboards (two toy pianos, clavichord, accordion, Casio SK1) along with custom-made music boxes and projection. The work was described by the New York Times as “by turns poignant, humorous and virtuosic, Chen’s performance offered a slyly subversive take on issues relating to femininity, technology and power…the looping, spellbinding music…became a fitting tribute to the modest, repetitive, yet quietly heroic work of women.”
She has received commissions from the International Contemporary Ensemble, A Far Cry, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Claire Chase, Opera Cabal Opera SHOP, Singapore International Festival of the Arts,the Roulette-Jerome and grants from New Music USA, Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, NYSCA (via Concert Artists Guild and Look & Listen Festival), Fromm Foundation and the Pew Heritage Trust via Christ Church of Philadelphia.
In 2007, Phyllis founded the UnCaged Toy Piano to promote new works for unusual instruments. Phyllis is one of the founding members of ICE, based in New York City. Her latest album, “On The Nature of Thingness” (Starkland), a collaborative album with ICE featuring the chamber works of Phyllis and ICE composer/percussionist Nathan Davis, was awarded Best Contemporary Classical Music Album at the 2016 Independent Music Awards.