1. curiosity cabinet (noun): 15th-century piece of furniture, typically made of wood, used to display a collection of artifacts. Said artifacts, which would be placed delicately on the cabinet’s shelves, were often thematically related to the collector’s profession. A scientist, for example, might exhibit remnants of botanical life or various medical anomalies, while a hunter’s cabinet would feature petrified butterflies or animal teeth. Curiosity cabinets were often the only place for laity to glimpse exotic pieces of fossilized wildlife, like the tip of a rhino horn or the claw from a hawk. These cabinets—and the collections they housed— are often considered to be predecessors of modern museums, and they have influenced various contemporary organizations such as the grotesque Mütter Museum of medical oddities, Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum, and the NYC-based new music ensemble the Curiosity Cabinet (see definition 2).
2. Curiosity Cabinet (proper noun): a chamber music collective whose drawers filled are with the musical curiosities and skills of instrumentalists and singers, each as unique as any wildlife oddity (see definition 1). Founded in 2009 by baroness of creativity Whitney George, the Curiosity Cabinet’s interdisciplinary programming champions new works by living composers, featuring performances that invite participation in an immersive drama of sounds, images, and gestures. The Cabinet seeks always to offer its audiences opportunities to indulge in the radical pleasures of spectacle, in the fun of looking as well as listening, and in the disorientating effects of satirical subversion.
Among the ensemble’s accolades are the Elebash Award for the premiere of Miriam Gideon’s opera Fortunato (2019), the CUNY Graduate Center's prestigious Robert Starer Award for George’s thirteen-movement orchestral work The Anatomy of the Curiosity Cabinet (2011), and the Robert Engelman Award for the premiere performance of George’s monodrama The Yellow Wallpaper (2010). In 2020, George, flutist Lindsey Eckenroth, and technologist Nick Nelson received a Light Relief Grant from The Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, for the audiovisual work When I Dream, I Dream of You. The Curiosity Cabinet has been the ensemble in residence for City Lyric Opera, dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, Fresh Squeezed Opera, and New Camerata Opera. In 2021, the Cabinet became Pinch Recording Artists, and they are excited to release new works on this label later in the year.
Highlights of recent seasons include the premiere of the opera Princess Maleine (composed by Whitney George, libretto by Bea Goodwin) with dell’Arte Opera Ensemble at LaMaMa Experimental Theater (2019), a collaboration with Concrete Timbre on Voyage de Ouf (2019) at University Settlement, and the recording/filming of George’s opera Julie with New Camerata Opera and Kurt Weil’s Threepenny Opera with City Lyric Opera (both 2020). Though the dreaded Year of Pandemic put a stop to live performances, the Cabinet did manage to record two new George/Goodwin collaborations, the radio dramas HOME and AXEMAN and preparations are currently underway for staged performances of these pieces, among other curiosities.