As musicians, and as friends, there are few people who can attest to as successful a collaboration as composer, Elena Kats-Chernin and pianist, Tamara-Anna Cislowska.
A chance phone call in the office of Belinda Webster (Tall Poppies) introduced these two wonderful musicians to one another more than 20 years ago. Elena recalls: “On the line was this incredibly articulate and beautifully spoken person, and that was Tamara. We had a long chat, and she asked so many questions- she’s a wonderful thinker, and I asked her to play a premiere of my piece, and she said ‘yes’”.
Since then, their work both as a performing duo, and as individuals, has taken them on wide ranging journeys around the globe.
“There have been lots of projects that we have been involved with over the years- a number of duet and multiple piano concerts- and she premiered my Variations in a serious black dress and the Schubert Blues.
“She was learning many new pieces of mine, and we collaborated extensively over that,” Kats-Chernin tells Fine Music magazine. “One day, Tamara started playing along to one of my pieces, and that’s how this four hands collaboration was born, and it was just so inspiring,” she recalls.
In their upcoming performance Kats-Chernin and Cislowska will improvise live, as they traverse the wondrous catalogue of the composer’s music, presenting well-loved works in an utterly new light and unveiling treasures in an intimate tête-a-tête. They will also be joined by Australian flautist Jane Rutter.
Kats-Chernin says of her long-time collaborator: “She [Cislowska] is a stunning pianist, and can play almost anything. She has this beautiful sound and beautiful ideas that she brings spontaneously to the works”.
Of their musical adventures, Elena states “we always have this interplay of ideas, but we never have anything properly written out- they’re sketches and very messy, but there are lots of colours and instructions – and it’s just a plan, but sometimes we don’t adhere to the plan, and that is the exciting part.
“Of course, it never ceases to surprise me about how much potential is in one piano, and how much more can happen with twenty fingers instead of ten,” she says.
Butterflying and beyond
In conjunction with this concert is the release of a double-CD set entitled Butterflying: piano music of Elena Kats-Chernin (ABC Classics). This showcases both solo and duet works for piano, composed by Kats-Chernin and performed by the composer and Cislowska.
“We had this massive collection of music that could be recorded, and we knew there were some that definitely had to be recorded,” says Kats-Chernin. “It was also lovely to have some versions of my music that are just frozen in time.”
To coincide with the CD release, a book, entitled Piano Village, is being released, containing 25 of Kats-Chernin’s piano works.
“It’s great for me to have all three projects happening at the moment- performing in concert, recording a CD and publishing a book. It’s a great result and lets me see my music in different lights,” she said.
An event as unique as this can always provide some surprises and exciting moments, so what can audiences expect?
“Something fun, and most importantly, something engaging” says Kats-Chernin.
“Being a composer since I was a very little girl, I have always improvised at the piano. I played the piano. I played with the piano. Every single day of my life. It is simply what I do. When I am not doing it, I think about when I will do it next. It is my best friend and my great love.”
Fittingly, the program will include a piece by the six-year old Elena Kats-Chernin.
“In the works that we present, Tamara often plays what I would call the outline of my written score or sketches whilst leaving me plenty of room to elaborate or create further,” said Kats-Chernin.
“The piece can take an entirely different turn by the end of the performance. It is this freshness and licence of creativity that excites me about these concerts, and many times a new piece has been born out of what happens on the stage.”
– Callum Close