Australian Hometown: Sydney
Education: Gnesin Musical College, New South Wales Conservatory
Elena Kats-Chernin is one of the most cosmopolitan composers working today, having reached millions of listeners worldwide through her prolific catalogue of works for theatre, ballet, orchestra, and chamber ensemble. Her dramatically vivid music communicates a mixture of lightheartedness and heavy melancholy, combining strong rhythmic figures with elements of cabaret, tango, ragtime, and klezmer.
Born in 1957 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Kats-Chernin received training at the Gnesin Musical College before immigrating to Australia in 1975. She graduated from the New South Wales Conservatory in 1980 and was awarded a DAAD (German academic exchange) grant to study with Helmut Lachenmann in Hanover. She remained in Germany for 13 years, returning in 1994 to Australia where she now lives in Sydney.
One of Australia’s leading composers, Elena Kats-Chernin has created works in nearly every genre. Among her many commissions are pieces for Ensemble Modern, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Adelaide, Tasmanian and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, Present Music, City of London Sinfonia, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the North Carolina Symphony.
Her brilliantly scored, energetic, and often propulsive music has been choreographed by dance-makers around the world. In 2000 she collaborated with leading Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard in a series of large-scale dance works. The first of these, “Deep Sea Dreaming”, was broadcast to an audience of millions worldwide as part of the opening ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Works include the concerto for basset clarinet and chamber orchestra Ornamental Air, which has been toured internationally and also released on CD for Chandos by Michael Collins, and her fourth opera The Rage of Life, staged in Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland. For the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir, she composed Prelude and Cube.
Kats-Chernin’s music continues to be heard on TV and at the cinema in the UK with the long-running Lloyds TSB advertising campaign “For the journey…” employing Eliza Aria from her ballet Wild Swans. Her piece Russian Rag became Max’s theme in the claymation film “Mary & Max” by Adam Elliott.
In 2011 Kats-Chernin was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Her first symphony, Symphonia Eluvium for organ, choir and orchestra commemorating the devastating Queensland floods of January 2011, was premiered that year by QSO conducted by Asher Fisch at the Brisbane Festival. In 2012, the work was voted by the readers of the Australian monthly performing arts journal Limelight as the best composition of the year.
Elena Kats-Chernin is one of the subjects of “Creative Minds,” a 6-episode series of artist’s portraits by documentarian Robin Hughes and broadcast on Australian TV’s STUDIO channel.
A CD of her complete music for string quartet, performed by Acacia, was released under the title “Blue Silence” by Vexations 840 in 2012.
One of Elena Kats-Chernin’s major premieres was her adaptation of Monteverdi’s three operas (Orpheus, Odysseus, Poppea) at the Komische Oper Berlin, directed by Barrie Kosky, in September 2012 – a 12 hour Marathon performance with live telecast on 3sat TV.
In January 2014, her music for the drama Frankenstein at the Sydney Ensemble Theatre won jointly the “Sydney Theatre Award 2013 for best score”. In March 2014 she was a joint winner of Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award.
In September 2015 Shobana Jeyasingh’s dance work Material Men was premiered with Elena Kats-Chernin’s score performed by Smith String Quartet at the Southbank Centre in London.
Her opera Schneewittchen und die 77 Zwerge opened at Komische Oper Berlin in November 2015. The dance piece Three Dancers, choreographed by Didy Veldman, to Elena’s music also premiered at Sadler’s Wells, London, in November 2015.
In 2016 Kats-Chernin premiered a new work, The Witching Hour, a Concerto for 8 Double Basses commissioned for The Australian World Orchestra. It was performed at Sydney Opera House and Singapore’s The Esplanade Concert Hall.
Last updated 2020