Early life and career
Elena Davidovna Kats-Chernin was born in Tashkent (now the capital of independent Uzbekistan, but then part of the Soviet Union) and is Jewish. She studied at the Yaroslavl Music School and the Gnessin State Musical College in Moscow from age 14, and migrated to Australia in 1975, continuing her studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, under Richard Toop (composition) and Gordon Watson (piano). She also participated in the Darlinghurst underground theatre scene, with groups such as Cabaret Conspiracy, Fifi Lamour, Boom Boom La Burn and others, often under the name Elena Kats.
Kats-Chernin studied with Helmut Lachenmann in Germany. She remained in Europe for thirteen years, and became active in theatre and ballet, composing for state theatres in Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg and Bochum. In 1993 she wrote Clocks for the Ensemble Modern. It has since been performed around the world.
Since returning to Australia in 1994, Kats-Chernin has written six operas (as of December 2015[update]: Iphis, 1997, Sydney; Matricide, the Musical, 1998, Melbourne; Mr Barbeque, 2002, Lismore; Rage of Life, 2010, Antwerp; George, 2014, Hannover-Herrenhausen; The Divorce, 2015, ABC Television), two piano concertos and compositions for many performers and ensembles, including The Seymour Group, The Song Company, the Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Chamber Made Opera, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She was also commissioned to write a piece, Page Turn, for the 2000 Sydney International Piano Competition. Her music was featured at the opening ceremonies of both the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
She also wrote three silent film soundtracks for a co-production between German/French TV channels ZDF/ARTE: Victor Sjöström's Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage, 1921), Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak's People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag, 1930), and G. W. Pabst's The Devious Path (Abwege, 1928). Kats-Chernin's other works include Charleston Noir for solo piano, Rockhampton Garden Symphonies with Mark Svendsen for solo voices, mixed choirs and orchestra, and Wild Swans, a collaboration with choreographer Meryl Tankard.
She has won numerous music composition prizes in Australia, and her pieces are regularly broadcast on ABC Classic FM radio. In 2009, Kats-Chernin was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to write a piece for orchestra called Garden of Dreams, named for one of the architectural features of the museum, which premiered at the museum the same year.
Performances of Kats-Chernin's music are available on several commercially released recordings. One album is Chamber of Horrors, released in August 2006 by Tall Poppies Records. Chamber of Horrors includes Charleston Noir, for four basses; Chamber of Horrors, for harp (1995), played by Alice Giles; Still Life, for viola and piano (2001); Gypsy Ramble, for viola, cello and piano (1996); Wild Rice, for cello (1996); and Velvet Revolution, for horn, violin and piano (1999).
Kats-Chernin's "Eliza Aria" from her score for the ballet Wild Swans (ABC Classics) is used in Lloyds TSB's 2007 television advertisements. In 2010, Wild Swans became the theme music for ABC Radio National's Late Night Live program until the end of 2015.
Kats-Chernin has written a number of ragtime pieces for piano; one of these, "Russian Rag", was used in two different instrumental ensemble arrangements, as the theme of Late Night Live until 2010. It is also used as the New York theme in Adam Elliot's feature film, Mary and Max.
Elena Kats-Chernin was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in January 2019 "for distinguished service to the performing arts, particularly to music, as an orchestral, operatic and chamber music composer".
- Iphis, 1997
- Matricide, the Musical, 1998
- Mr Barbeque, 2002
- Rage of Life, 2010
- George, 2014
- The Divorce, 2015, for ABC Television
- The Monteverdi Trilogy
- Whiteley, 2019
- Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer, 2019
- The Wind in the Willows, 2019/20
- Land of Sweeping Plains, SA choir and piano (set to Dorothea Mackellar, My Country)
- Rockhampton Garden Symphonies, solo voices, mixed choirs and orchestra (with Mark Svendsen)
- The Uninvited Stranger, 2007, SATB choir (text by Sandy Jeffs)
- Blue Silence
- Cadences, Deviations and Scarlatti
- Calliope Dreaming, 2009
- Chamber of Horrors, for harp
- Charleston Noir
- Frankenstein (incidental music, 2013)
- Gypsy Ramble, for viola, cello and piano
- In Tension
- Intermezzo Days
- Lullaby for Nick
- Page Turn
- Peggy's Minute Rag
- Phoenix Story
- Purple Prelude
- Russian Rags
- Schubert Blues
- Setting Out
- Slicked Back Tango
- Spirit and the Maiden
- Still Life, for viola and piano
- Stur in Dur
- Three Dancers (2015)
- Trio Grandios
- Variations in a Serious Black Dress
- Velvet Revolution, for horn, violin and piano
- Wild Rice, for cello (1996)
- Zoom and Zip
- Deep Sea Dreaming
- Garden of Dreams
- Harpsichord Concerto ("Ancient Letters"), for Mahan Esfahani
- Night and Now (for flute and orchestra)
- Ornamental Air (for clarinet and orchestra)
- Piano Concerto (Displaced Dances)
- 2nd Piano Concerto
- Prelude and Cube
- Singing Trees
- Symphonia Eluvium
- Violin Concerto
- The Witching Hour, concerto for 8 double basses and orchestra (2016), commissioned for the Australian World Orchestra
- Sydney Symphony Orchestra Archived 21 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- "Museum accepts a major Australian musical work", National Museum of Australia media release, 10 May 2009
- Elena Kats-Chernin, Australian Music Centre
- "The Witching Hour – Elena Kats-Chernin, 2017". National Portrait Gallery collection. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
- Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 28 January 2019
- George, Boosey & Hawkes
- "The Divorce: Putting the Opera into the Soap" by Andrew Aronowicz, Limelight, 1 December 2015
- Whiteley, Opera Australia, Retrieved 3 May 2019
- Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer, Komische Oper Berlin, Retrieved 3 May 2019
- Der Wind in den Weiden, Boosey & Hawkes, Retrieved 3 May 2019
- The Uninvited Stranger, Boosey & Hawkes
- "At the witching hour, it’s all about the (double) bass" by Emily Ritchie, The Australian, 24 September 2016
- Elena Kats-Chernin's official MySpace page
- Elena Kats-Chernin at Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishing
- Interview with Elena Kats-Chernin
- "In the key of flat-out major" by Deborah Jones, The Australian, 24 April 2010
- Audio and transcript of Kats-Chernin on convict love tokens, the subject of a movement in Garden of Dreams, National Museum of Australia
- Audio and transcript of Kats-Chernin on "Kimberley points", the subject of a movement in Garden of Dreams, National Museum of Australia
- "Trees have roots, Jews have legs", peopleofthebarre.tumblr.com, 4 August 2016