1. curiosity cabinet (noun): 15th-century piece of furniture, typically made of wood, with many drawers and shelves of different sizes. These drawers and shelves were used to display a collection of artifacts, and these artifacts were often connected by a theme related to the collector’s profession. A scientist, for example, might exhibit remnants of botanical life or various medical anomalies, while a hunter might collect and display petrified butterflies or ravenous animal teeth. Curiosity cabinets were often the only place for laity to glimpse exotic pieces of fossilized wildlife, like the tip of the horn of a rhino or claw from a hawk. These cabinets—and the collections they housed— are often considered to be predecessors of the modern museum, and 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): 20th- and 21st-century chamber music collective whose drawers filled are with the musical curiosities and talents of 20 instrumentalists and 6 singers, each as unique as any wildlife oddity (see definition 1). Founded in 2009 by composer and conductor Whitney George, The Curiosity Cabinet’s interdisciplinary thematic performances champion new works by living composers, combined with the immersive drama of sounds, images and gestures, and invite audiences to indulge in the pleasure of spectacle, in the fun of looking as well as listening, and in the disorientating effect of satire.
Among the ensemble’s accolades include the Robert Engelman Award for the premiere performance of George’s 50-minute monodrama The Yellow Wallpaper (2010) and the CUNY Graduate Center's prestigious Robert Starer Award for George’s 13-movement work The Anatomy of the Curiosity Cabinet (2011). Other performance highlights include the annual New York City Composers NOW festival (since 2011), the premiere of selections of a new opera by David Bridges (2011), and performing as the ensemble-in-residence at the annual Hartford Women Composers' Festival (2011). Its recent interdisciplinary collaborations include the Satie-inspired theatrical installation Un Lieu de Vie with artist collective Concrete Timbre (2014) and The Curious Tale of Ed Leeskalnin with puppeteer Daniel Patrick Fay at Standard Toykraft Theater in Brooklyn (2015).
Highlights of their 2015-16 season include a collaboration with Concrete Timbre on their newest theatrical presentation, 4 Wars, Fresh Squeezed Opera on their annual summer production, a presentation of The Strange Library at the 2nd annual New Music Gathering, Daniel Felsenfeld's curated series at National Sawdust, and Dixon Place's Works in Progress Series for Whitney George's award-winning work Night, like velvet: in twelve letters, using the poetry of Slyvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and a collaboration with the esteemed choral group C4 under the direction of Karen Siegel for a presentation of original works by Graduate Center composers under the instruction of distinguished professor Tania Leon.