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Two new works by Elena Kats-Chernin for her Melbourne Symphony residency, Ancient Letters and Big Rhap, take her back to her roots: living on the Silk Road in her native Uzbekistan, and listening to her mother playing Lizst on the piano.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s residency with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has produced two new works, the harpsichord concerto Ancient Letters written for Mahan Esfahani and the concert-opener Big Rhap, both premiered in May.

The title Ancient Letters refers to the first known documents of the Sogdian people who lived across what is today Uzbekistan, the place where Kats-Chernin was born. The opening movement Tiger Cub refers to a woman featured in the letters and is launched by the harpsichord alone in what according to the composer "is a portrait of this feisty, desperate, beautiful, deserted woman the way I see her." This is followed by Musk Trade, a diptych depicting the valuable aromatic scent and the busy deal-making along the Silk Road.

The final movement recalls memories of the composer when she lived in the fabled desert city of Samarkand and the sense of displacement and yearning for home that is communicated strongly in the Sogdian letters. "In Goodbye Samarkand I have written a little ballad to home - the place, to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, you can never go to again. It is the winds that feature first in this movement. The melody came to me as I imagined looking back at a desert horizon and realising that life is different forever; a mix of misgivings, hopes and longings."

The ten-minute Big Rhap puns on Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 and the idea of 'wrapping up' that composer's virtuosity in a short orchestral piece. Neither a transcription nor an arrangement, it is more an attempt to capture Kats-Chernin's memories of her mother playing the piano work when they lived in Yaroslavl in Russia: "In writing this piece I am transferring my early memories of the spectacle, the merriness and the hyperbole of what I saw and heard in my living room to paper!"

"A well-filtered reminiscence of childhood memories about her mother playing the well-known Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, the piece has most of the Kats-Chernin trademarks: motor rhythms, simple melodies, lashings of orchestral excitement, just enough hints at the past to bring near-recognition during the relentless forward drive …"
Sydney Morning Herald

>  Further information on Work: Ancient Letters

Photo: Bruria Hammer

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