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Phyllis Chen

Astoria, NY         

Praised by the New York Times for her “delightful quirkiness matched with interpretive sensitivity,” Phyllis is a pianist,toy pianist and composer that performs original multimedia compositions  and works by contemporary composers. The Oregonian states  “her captivating performance was animated by unbridled inventiveness, the kind of joyous creativity that playing with toys is meant to inspire.” Phyllis’ artistic pursuits take her in numerous directions  leading to her selection as a New Music/New Places Fellow at the 2007 Concert Artist Guild International Competition.
Playing an instrument that has no set boundaries or genre, Phyllis has been invited to perform at  a large variety of festivals and concerts in the US and abroad.

Phyllis is one of the founding members of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), a  New York-based collective dedicated to the performance and promotion of new works.  Phyllis was selected as one of the composer/artist for the inaugural ICElab Series, ICE’s newest model for commissioning, developing and performing new music by nurturing the essential composer-performer collaboration. Her ICElab works will be performed this August at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.  Phyllis was also the recipient of  the 2012 Roulette/Jerome Commission and one of twelve composers-recipients of the 2012 Fromm Music Foundation. Recent commissions included a film score to Hans Richter’s silent film Everything Turns Everything Revolves, that was premiered at the LA County Museum of Art and a new work for toy piano and mandolin for Jen Curtis.

A strong interest in interdisciplinary work led her to collaborations with video artist and electronic musician Rob Dietz with whom she created multimedia works such as  Looking Glass ReWondered, The Memoirist, Pearlessence, Chroma, Carousels, and most recently, The Slumber Thief, a newly-commissioned work by Opera Cabal’s Opera Shop program.

Phyllis founded the UnCaged Toy Piano, a composition competition to further expand the repertoire for toy piano and electronics. The competition has received works from composers all around the world and these compositions become an integral part of her repertoire.  In the Winter of 2011, Phyllis curated the first-ever three day toy piano festival in New York City. The next UnCaged Toy Piano Festival will be in the 2013.

Phyllis attended Oberlin Conservatory as a recipient of the Dean’s Talent Award Scholarship and received a Masters Degree from Northwestern University as an Eckstein Merit Scholar. She is continuing to pursue her DMA in piano performance at Indiana University where she studied with André Watts.


Written for toy piano, toy piano rods, tuning forks, clarinet, violin and toy glockenspiel. Work inspired by Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and written for the International Contemporary Ensemble. Premiered at Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival 2011.
Josh Rubin, clarinet and tuning forks
Erik Carlson, vln and tuning forks
Eric Lamb, tuning forks
Cory Smythe, toy glockenspiel and tuning forks
Phyllis Chen, composer, toy piano and tuning forks

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for prepared piano, toy piano, music box and bowls
Phyllis Chen, composer, toy piano, bowls, music box
Cory Smythe, piano

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The Slumber Thief

The Slumber Thief is a piece for toy piano, music box, props, lo-fi electronics and visuals. The piece was commissioned by Opera Cabal and co-created with video artist Robert Dietz . Inspired by small object theater, the piece explores objects from fairy tales and bedtime stories through the perspective of a suffering insomniac (eyeball), which only exaggerates the surreal, ridiculous and hallucinated beauty in the middle of the night. For more information, visit www.slumberthief.net

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