Kats-Chernin & Cislowska to Perform in Armidale

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The New England Conservatorium and Musica Viva Armidale will present an unmissable concert featuring composer and pianist Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. As duo pianists, they will perform Elena’s music from her Butterflying album and other composers at the ARMIDALE TOWN HALL ON THURSDAY, MARCH 2 AT 7PM.

Elena Kats-Chernin is one of Australia’s most successful and loved composers. Her popular music ranges from full scale operas, ballets, film and animation scores, orchestral and choral music through to ragtime and chamber music.

Tamara-Anna Cislowska is one of Australia’s most acclaimed pianists, renowned for her solo and chamber performances, and winner of the 2015 ARIA award for “Best Classical Album” for her recording Peter Sculthorpe: Complete Works for Solo Piano (ABC Classics).

NECOM sat down with Elena and Tamara to discuss their upcoming concert in Armidale on Thursday 2 March.

ELENA – We last saw you in Armidale for NECOM’s New England Sings! in 2014 and previously in our 2012 Heritage Homestead Concert. Are you looking forward to returning this year?

ELENA: I’ve loved all my trips to Armidale. The people are so cultured and the scenery so inspiring. It is a pleasure for me to come back and I have friends I love to visit – I even have my favourite café in Armidale.

You will be performing with pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska for this concert – how did your collaboration come about?

ELENA: When I met Tamara it was over the phone many years ago, and she claims she did not understand me because I talked so fast … But I vividly remember that she agreed to premiere my piece, which she did. We perform lots of new music together in ensembles and sometimes as a duo. Last year we released the album Butterflying, which went to number one [on the Aria Classical Chart] and that was a first for me – it was a huge thrill.

What’s it like performing as a duo pianist with Tamara-Anna Cislowska?

ELENA: People tell me that Tamara and I make a great combination. From my side, what I know is that we always have a lot of fun. Even more importantly, we make a lot of music. I always feel very free during our concerts, and I love to improvise together with Tamara. This medium gives me this platform. We seem to have a very good sense of where the other is going. So far!

What music will you play at your concert?

ELENA: Expect to hear much of my music from Butterflying plus some of my most compelling influences, like Schubert and Rachmaninov. Growing up in Russia, I was exposed to all of the great composers and then, of course, later living in Australia and then in Germany I had a number of other influences, such as cabaret and even pop. All of them can be heard from time to time.

What do you like about composing?

ELENA: Composing is the reason why I am here, it is what I look forward to each day, it is what I do all the time if I am not forced to do something else. I write music mostly at the piano. My relationship with a piano has been a long, fruitful and delightful one, and I see my piano every day and I want to see it every day.  When I am composing, I am never more myself. I am able to express anything and everything that passes through my mind. The freedom of that is irresistible. What I do in practical terms; I write dots and lines on paper, and those shapes become music – and what more could I want?

What advice can you give to students who want to compose?

ELENA: I tell students to write down everything that comes to mind and not over-criticise material before a note hits the page. Even writing a sketch that is not going to stay for the final piece is going to help find that right material. My main advice to students is to absorb as much as possible from the world around you, learn the techniques of the masters of the past and then finally follow your own path, wherever it may lead you.

What is in store for you this year?

ELENA: I am resident composer for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and I am writing a harpsichord concerto, which is a first for me, to be premiered on the 4th May. I am also writing music for a silent film, then an opera and in a few months I have another CD coming out. This time I have cast my mind towards the world of Erik Satie and written a whole album of meditations upon his life and work.

TAMARA – How did your collaboration with Elena come about?

TAMARA: I’ve known Elena since I premiered her piece Variations in a Serious Black Dress. At the time, I remember not being able to understand Elena’s very fast speech on the phone and somehow agreeing to do the premiere without really realising! People may not know that Elena actually started talking very late as a child, and her family were quite worried about her. It’s funny to think of that now, as today talking is one of the things she does at world record pace (writing music and typing being two of the others).

What can the audience expect to hear at your concert?

TAMARA: The concert will be a mixture of different styles, all from Elena’s catalogue and her album Butterflying. She has a real diversity in her output that is almost unique among Australian composers, and this makes her music perfect for live recitals of this type. There really is something for everyone!

How did the two of you go about choosing the music for this concert?

TAMARA: Well, we are really spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding the works. I try to think about the vibe of the collection as a whole, and usually one or two themes come up and guide the choices. In this case, the influence Schubert and Rachmaninov had on Elena is a guiding principle to putting the recital together.

How does Schubert, Rachmaninov and Rebikov relate to Elena’s Butterflying pieces?

TAMARA: The extra pieces all have some meaning to Elena and various stages in her life: her childhood and hearing her mother play piano, her study in Moscow and later, her time in Germany.

You have a wonderful career as a professional musician – how did you get to where you are?

TAMARA: Since I was little I’ve always loved doing many things at once. Back then I acted and san, as well as playing instruments. One discipline will always inform another and you often find one thing improves because of developing other skills, even seemingly incongruous ones. I will never forget how working to achieve more of a “power” game on the tennis court sparked a realisation about sound on the piano as well. I believe if you can master one skill, you can always apply those principles to something else.

You are now a presenter on ABC Classic FM. Tell us about that

TAMARA: As to presenting, well, I’ve always presented my own concerts. I enjoy talking to the audience and sharing thoughts about what is going to happen, what goes on behind the scenes. Presenting on ABC Classic FM is just an extension of that communication, really. Plus, Margaret Throsby told me “you’re a natural”, so how on earth could I refuse the job? In 2017 I’ll be presenting Friday and Saturday Evenings and perhaps a few surprise outside broadcasts. Maybe one from Armidale!

Thanks Elena and Tamara.


When: Thursday 2 March, 7pm.
Book online: www.trybooking.com/OJVY
Phone: NECOM 6788 2137
More info: www.necom.org.au

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