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Artist Biography

Elena Kats-Chernin, Composer and pianist

Elena Kats-Chernin

By Artistic Director Chris Latham

“Elena Kats-Chernin is in many ways a force of nature - prodigously creative and endlessly inventive. A true melting pot composer, she defies categorisation because she has no one style, no one pigeonhole that she can be put in. Just as listeners of today are conversant in their listening tastes with an enormous mix of styles, Elena as a composer draws on a vast array of musical genres, mixing elements of Russian and Jewish music, ragtime, tango and 1920s popular idioms, with a sense of the filmic and the dramatic. Then just when you don't expect it, she spins a mesmeric spell that makes time stand still, and touches listeners deeper than they imagined was possible.

“Her training and upbringing is unique in that she was brought up in the Russian formal Conservatory training, and then immigrated to the wide open spaces of Australia, and followed that with extensive avante-garde studies and over a decade of theatre work in Germany. Since her return to Australia that cocktail has become finely blended, developing free from any musical orthodoxy. The marriage of traditional technique and craft coupled with her own brand of theatrical, explosive, creative invention has produced vast amounts of music that is both unique and inimitable. It is music that comes directly from our Classical and Romantic musical history, yet which is totally of today, and consistently confounds those who try to sum things up in pithy phrases. I consider her somewhat of a miracle - like lightning caught in a bottle. Both she and her music are curious, compelling and captivating and we are especially proud to have her appearing at the festival playing her own works as a pianist.

“She will be premiering a new vocal version of The Spirit and the Maiden - a work that is destined to become a modern classic - as well as excerpts from her ballet score Wild Swans. She will also perform pieces from her After Dinner Music collection between courses of the feast, as well as attending the premiere of her brass piece Mater - a work that is about the suffering of Mary but which has deep resonances for her as well, given one of her sons is also unwell.

“Elena Kats-Chernin was born in 1957 in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent. As a child, she received intensive training in both figure skating and music. At age fourteen she chose music as a career, leaving her home in the Volga riverside town of Yaroslavl to study at the Gnessin Musical College in Moscow. Four years later, she and her family emigrated from the Soviet Union to Australia. She entered the New South Wales Conservatory as a pianist and as a composition pupil of Richard Toop. Graduating in 1980, she received a DAAD Fellowship (a German academic exchange program) to study with Helmut Lachenmann in Hanover, West Germany.

“Whilst in Europe she became active composing for theatre, film and ballet in Germany, returning to Australia in 1994 where she has written three operas, two piano concertos and many other works for the Sydney, Adelaide, Queensland and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, the Song Company, Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Evelyn Glennie, Ensemble Modern, Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Her music was featured at the Musica Nova Helsinki in March of 2001, and the 2002 Soundstreams Festival in Toronto. She has also written scores for the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

“Her recent full length ballet Wild Swans with choreography by Meryl Tankard for the Australian Ballet was a enormous critical and public success, and won the Green Room Award as well as Helpmann Award in 2004 for the best original score. In 2004 she received a two-year Fellowship from the Australia Council to write another dance/opera project with Meryl Tankard based on the life story of Toulouse Lautrec.” biographical information biographical information AMC's holdings of scores, recordings, articles and books.

see a list of artists that have performed at previous Four Winds