How does she manage it? The view about composers is that you need to give them plenty of time to develop whatever exists between their creative urges and the score where the fruits of their labours come to rest. But in the case of Elena Kats-Chernin, truly becoming, if not already one of Australia’s national treasures, is turning out so much music you feel that she’s been cloned! One of her recent appearances at the Bowral Autumn Music Festival showed new work Five Chapters for Piano Quintet performed by the Acacia Quartet with additional viola. She’s produced The Three Dancers for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville in July, and one of her most recent works includes The Divorce, a television opera for the ABC and Opera Australia and now for this auspicious occasion at the Sydney Conservatorium, Kats-Chernin has written Macquarie’s Castle: Saxophone Concerto.
The Soviet-born alumna of the Conservatorium, Kats-Chernin was commissioned by The Con to create a new work that celebrated its centenary in 2015, and which was given its World Premiere at the University of Sydney University Chancellor’s Concert on 8 April. The work was made possible thanks to a generous donation by alumnus Kim Williams AM.
The new work salutes the magnificent building that was Governor Macquarie’s horse stables turned music school and today houses Australia’s premier tertiary music institution. The work assuredly places Kats-Chernin into the higher echelon of other distinguished composers for the saxophone, such as Francaix, Ibert, Villa-Lobos, as well as Australians William Lovelock and Arthur Benjamin. The new work was performed by distinguished saxophonist Michael Duke, member of staff at the Con.
The Annual University Chancellor’s Concert, launching the concert season also featured the CSO under the baton of Maestro Eduardo Diazmunoz performing Hindsons’ work Marathon from the Ballet Faster, originally written for the Birmingham Royal Ballet for the London Olympics and also being given its Australian World Premiere. Bruckner’s powerful popular Symphony no 4 completed the program.
The composition comprises four movements: The Palace for Horses, Training, Stable Music and Spring Carnival.
“The saxophone has a powerful and versatile voice, so I wanted to create a piece where it could shine as a solo instrument and immediately I thought of driving rhythms, long melodies, plenty of energy and a wide dynamic range,” said Kats-Chernin.
The first movement reflects on the toil, hardship and groundwork that goes into creating something big that lasts and continues. In the second movement it considers the dual purpose of the building, imagining at first the training and work of the horses, and later the scales and arpeggios that would come from every corner of the music castle.
In the third movement, Kats-Chernin said: “It is a kind of waltz to which I tried to give that bit of elegance, that bit of grandeur, that tinge of beauty, which I first saw in 1975 in my first year at the Conservatorium”. On a more surreal note, she imagines the spirit of the horses who lived there, revisiting their old home when they heard the intriguing sounds that emanated from the sandstone stables.
For the finale of the piece, she says: “I always recall the big events that were happening and the carnival atmosphere that accompanied them. So I wanted to write something that would fizz and sparkle, that would hit its groove and convey those moments that I experienced, remember and hold dear”.
“Who would have thought that this home for horses would resound with music one hundred years later and beyond?” said Kats-Chernin.
– Emyr Evans