I remember hearing an interview you did on the ABC once in which you mentioned how special and exciting it was, growing up in the Soviet Union, to receive a single mandarin during New Year’s celebrations. Have those early experiences affected the way you think about produce here in Australia?
An orange or mandarin is something we take for granted in Australia, but for me it represents a huge amount of joy and even a sense of achievement when I remember how I managed to get a bag of oranges after staying in a queue for many hours in Russia.
I appreciate and want to be aware of how each ingredient gets to my table. I love stories behind produce, I find that food tastes better if it has an ethical story behind it.
Elena Kats-Chernin. Photo © Bruria Hammer
In your set at the Night Market you’re performing a piece commissioned by Kylie Kwong in 2006, Road to Harvest. How did the commission come about?
Kylie Kwong and I met in 2004 through mutual great friends Meryl Tankard and Regis Lansac. We just connected immediately and then became great friends from then on; we went on to share many meals together at Billy Kwong, at Meryl and Regis’s, and we enjoyed several wonderful parties at Martin Sharp’s ‘Wirian’ home in Bellevue Hill, where sometimes I would play ad-lib on his piano! During this time Kylie was the Ambassador for the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand and each May she would curate a Fair Trade Festival in Sydney – one year she invited me to compose a piece specifically for the Fair Trade movement, which she felt and still feels very passionate about. Fair Trade, of course, is all about stable prices, decent working conditions and the empowerment of farmers and workers around the world. I chose to call this piece Road To Harvest because I really wanted to capture the spirit and energy of all of the many, amazing, hard-working people, whose often life-long struggles as underpaid, exploited farmers were now, ultimately rewarded with equality and empowerment as the Fair Trade movement became and still remains a powerful force for good.
What were some of the ideas you wanted to keep in mind as you were composing the work?
I aimed to create a long melody with a sense of optimism and earthy flavour in the harmonies and the texture.
As with many of your works, you have created arrangements for a number of different instrumental combinations, including a string quartet version which has been recorded by the Acacia Quartet. How does hearing the work in different instrumental colours affect your perception of the piece? Do you have a definitive version in your head?
I love all versions, they are all quite different. The piano version is fluid and has many arpeggiated figures supporting the melody, whereas the string quartet version has more sustained chords. It is fun for me to hear a piece in another setting played by very fine and wonderful musicians. Acacia quartet recorded most of my string quartet music including Road To Harvest on their CD Blue Silence.
What else will you be performing at the Night Market?
Kylie really wished for Eliza Aria, so I am definitely playing that and possibly some more from Wild Swans, the ballet which I created with Meryl Tankard. Kylie is a fan of Eric Satie’s music and recently I composed for Tamara-Anna Cislowska a whole album Unsent Love Letters dedicated to his life and music, so I might play a few pieces from that album.
The bustling of a market – which in this case will feature other artists and performers as well – is very different to a concert hall. How do you think that affects the energy of a performance?
I am sure I will get swept in the whole buzz of the event. I am excited about the direction the performance might take in the moment and am really looking forward to seeing what other artists and performers are going to present.
Food is obviously a big part of the market – are you a foodie?
I overwhelmingly enjoy eating!!!! I am not a goddess in the kitchen – very, very far from it. I leave this talent to others and enjoy what they create very much. I’m always so grateful to my friends and family who cook for me.
What are you looking forward to most about the event?
The vibrancy of the people and their creations. Am looking forward to performing and soaking up the uplifting atmosphere of the Night Market at the fabulous Carriageworks.
Elena Kats-Chernin will perform at the Night Market, curated by Kyle Kwong, at Sydney’s Carriageworks on February 9