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Born in Uzbekistan and trained in Moscow, Australia (where she now lives), and Germany (with Helmut Lachenmann), Elena Kats-Chernin (b. 1957) is a remarkably cosmopolitan composer. “If I were to just grab some names out of the ‘INSPIRATION’ bag, I would probably say: Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Ravel, Stockhausen, Boulez, Berio, Globokar, Xenakis, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Bach, Tom Waits, Garbage, David Bowie, Ennio Morricone,” she writes on her MySpace page. “The list always fluctuates and gets longer and shorter.” She has written pieces for Evelyn Glennie, Ensemble Modern, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Sequitur, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and the Sydney Symphony, among other groups and players.

Music for theater and dance has a prominent place in her catalog. Deep Sea Dreaming, choreographed by Meryl Tankard, was broadcast worldwide as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and in 2003 Kats-Chernin and Tankard created Wild Swans for Australian Ballet. Other companies setting her scores include Nederlands Dans Theater, Munich Ballet Theater, and Stuttgart Ballet.

Many of her instrumental pieces also draw on dance elements, such as tango and ragtime. Her 1996 deconstruction of the Charleston, Charleston Noir, has itself been choreographed and the music has proved highly popular – she made versions for solo piano, string quartet, and four string basses. “Her Charleston Noir, for four double basses, subverts the concept of the Charleston as a light, carefree dance by casting it for an ensemble of the orchestra’s most lugubrious instruments,” writes Stephen Eddins in All Music Guide. “The result is clearly a Charleston, but one with a darkly goofy sensibility.”

— John Henken