Elena Kats-Chernin, Australia’s world famous contemporary composer, working with Alice Springs orchestra

Central Australia boasts spectacular sunrises and sunsets, dark enough skies to see the edge of the milky way and the harsh searing heat of the midday sun.

All these elements are the inspiration for a brand new piece of work by one of Australia’s most prolific and well-known composers and pianists, Elena Kats-Chernin, who boasts a catalogue of 300 pieces.

The Red Centre Suite is in four movements and has been written specifically for the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra, thanks to a chance meeting three years ago.

The meeting was with Markus Kuchenbuch, the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director, at a music festival in NSW.

It is thanks to his tenacity that Kats-Chernin has not only composed a piece about the region, but has also come to Alice Springs to work directly with the orchestra.

Elena Kats-Chernin ready to rehearse her piece Red Centre Suite.(ABC Alice Springs: Emma Haskin)

“You never really think it’s going to happen because not everyone follows through,” Kats-Chernin said.

“However, Markus is the kind of person who follows through.”

The four movements are Night Stars, Dawn, Noon, and Sunset, and was written without ever seeing the landscape.

“I have very rarely written about a place,” she said.

“It’s always extremely special to actually be in the place I have written about, especially if I wrote [the piece] before I actually came here, which is kind of unusual.”

Hand written music notes on music paper. The Red Centre Suite score Kats-Chernin wrote for the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra.(ABC Alice Springs: Emma Haskin)

Kats-Chernin said that after many decades of composing it was hard to pinpoint the moment the material crystallises.

“It’s always a mystery how a piece gets born,” she said.

“I have perfected a skill, which is to move myself into a zone, mentally, into a particular place.

“I can place myself internally anywhere — be it emotion, flavour, a state of being, or a place I can imagine myself there.”

Kats-Chernin said she was impressed with the calibre of Alice Springs’ musicians “and the quality of their preparation”.

“In the first rehearsal of the piece [it] actually sounded really good already. II was just overjoyed how much the base of the piece was already there,” she said.

“Once the piece is written it’s in the hands of musicians who perform it.”

Kats-Chernin said it was a joy to work directly with the musicians.

“To have this direct communication with musicians in the room [so that] we can shape it and mould it, so that it sounds better, so that it makes more sense,” she said.

“I can [then] tell what’s more important in the texture of things. So I can say ‘this instrument a bit louder, maybe softer, maybe bring out a certain warmth of the instrument, maybe play it colder’. So it just depends.”

Inspiring for local musicians

Kuchenbuch said that the feedback from the orchestra was very positive, given they had been playing Kats-Chernin’s pieces for several years.

“They feel like they have touched fame to have someone of Kats-Chernin’s calibre not only write them a piece but to work with them, given that she is booked out until 2024,” he said.

Musicican wearing black with woman in black and red in foreground in front of black upright piano. Elena Kats-Chernin with the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra.(ABC Alice Springs: Emma Haskin)

“For her to have so much time to rehearse with us is very special.”

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Krzysztof Stanowicz

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