Exclusive Interview with Elena Kats-Chernin

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This week debussycat had the chance to speak with Elena Kats-Chernin about her upcoming concert with the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra (tonight and tomorrow night at the Strathfield Town Hall – for more info click here). A household name in Australia, Elena Kats-Chernin is one of our nation’s most celebrated modern musicians and leading composers whose output includes orchestral works, operas, chamber and solo pieces, as well as music for dance, film, and theatre. The Strathfield Symphony Orchestra commissioned Kats-Chernin to compose the Redmyre Suite in 2009 to celebrate its 40th anniversary, and it has been revised for these concerts.

You can view the programme here and book tickets here.

Kats-Chernin on composing

It goes without saying that the life of a composer is intensely creative and solitary in some respects. Kats-Chernin tells me she spends days composing millions of little notes and making constant changes to her work. Requiring only her piano, her manuscript paper, a pen and her mind, Kats-Chernin’s compositions are highly original and spontaneous, reflecting her unique idiom and personal history. Once upon a time, she might have cited Ravel and Bach as influences, however these days she draws inspiration from just about anything, whether ‘a conversation, a story or even something she has eaten’.

I have to ask Kats-Chernin what it is like to be a composer in Australia. Did she ever consider moving elsewhere? Her answer is a resounding “no” – Australia is and always has been the place for her. She laughs and tells me that composers are not fond of change. Constantly busy with new compositions, Kats-Chernin is glad to be surrounded by friends and family here in Sydney.

The story behind the Redmyre Suite

During our interview, Kats-Chernin reveals a little of her thinking behind the Redmyre Suite. I am intrigued to find out that the Redmyre Suite, named after Redmyre Street (being the street on which the orchestra meets for rehearsal every week) is inspired by the Orchestra itself. Kats-Chernin seeks to pay tribute to its members past and present, as well as the noble sacrifice of amateur artists who meet and practice in their free time, all for the love of music.

A preview of the Redmyre Suite

In short, the Suite is a celebratory piece inspired by community and place. Tonight I will be listening for Kats-Chernin’s characteristic rhythmic pulsation and distinctive melodic/harmonic language as well as the celebratory brass chords that she tells me will open the final movement. She also tells me to listen for the sound of ‘trains hurtling along the tracks’, reminding the audience of Strathfield’s famous train station – a significant and central landmark for community members both within and without Strathfield.

Finally, whilst Kats-Chernin’s inspiration these days is very much the fruit of her own ideas and personal experiences, there are a handful of references to Chopin and Bach in the Redmyre Suite. Whilst the references to Bach are more overt, you will have to listen more closely for motifs inspired by Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in the opening movement.

Why Rowing for Rivendell?

The proceeds of the concert will be used to buy a rowing machine for Rivendell, Adolescent & Family Mental Health Services at Thomas Walker Hospital, Concord. For Elena Kats-Chernin, the cause is one close to her heart as her middle son Alex suffers from schizophrenia.

Rowing for Rivendell will be a unique opportunity to witness one of Australia’s most famous musicians perform and hear the much anticipated revised Redmyre Suite. Book now to experience Kats-Chernin’s celebrated music and contribute to a cause that is close to her heart.

© Sabina Chitty 2011, debussycat Sydney classical music guide