Saturday, 15 December 2012

Elena Kats-Chernin: A first look

Okay the year is getting on and things haven't been going to plan, so I may shrink the Australian Composer Survey for now, but it will be an ongoing thing I suspect. But I do want to do one more now, which may also become an ongoing thing since the composer in question is alive and kicking, not to mention quite prolific. Of current Australian composers I think she is my favourite. She has written a hauntingly beautiful ballet, works for string quartet, reimaginings of Bach and much more. She is of course Elena Kats-Chernin.

In a switch from Glanville-Hicks, Elena was born in Tashkent and moved to Australia; but like Peggy she also studied music in Europe. And just as Peggy appears to be popular in Germany, Elena has written music for German/French projects namely some silent film soundtracks.

Probably her most famous piece is Eliza's Aria from the ballet Wild Swans. There are numerous versions of this on YouTube and it's readily available one various ABC albums and others. Originally a wordless aria, she has arranged it for solo piano (performed here by the composer herself) and piano and violin too. It's a remarkable piece with its lilting ups and downs, which I imagine are a considerable challenge to sing. Despite its somewhat staccato nature it flows smoothly, I picture it like a gentle river with ripples. The first movement of her second piano concerto works in a similar fashion - I found it by accident while looking for Clocks, her first major composition but it didn't appear.

To finish for now and to give you an idea of her versatility I'll just mention these two videos. The first is a Bucharian Melody, which reminds me a little of Ippolitov-Ivanov, probably from similar geographic origins I imagine but I'd need to investigate more. It definitely has the feel of Eastern Europe, to me anyway. The second is her Russian Rag, one of her ragtime pieces, played here on a delightful array of instruments I'm not even going to try to guess what they all are.

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