From our first collaboration on the Deep Sea Dreaming segment of the Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2000, it was clear that Meryl Tankard and I had a rare level of mutual understanding and we were very interested in working together again. As we were discussing various ideas, we found out that we both were fascinated by the same Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and it became clear that this was to be our project, and from that day on we collaborated very closely. We met regularly around my piano, about twice a week and went through everything scene by scene. Meryl would work out the structure and describe the images in her head, and I would improvise all kinds of different versions, and at some point Meryl would say—"yes, that's it"—and then I would write everything down. In a couple of days she would visit again and we would check the past material as well as try and work on the next scenes. It was good to work in the "running order", as this way we kept the rhythm of the whole piece in "real time". We were also lucky that the Australian Ballet arranged for a draft recording of the whole ballet with the Orchestra of Victoria. That way Meryl had a chance to hear all the orchestral colours that I had imagined and which were sometimes very hard to describe in words. Meryl and the dancers then rehearsed with the recording and in the last week of that phase I joined in and we found ourselves working out the final order of which pieces worked and where.
The big difference between writing this ballet score and for example writing for the concert hall, is that the music has to tell a story, as well as being "danceable". It also needs to be able to set the mood for each scene and help establish connections between scenes and characters. For me, the optimal way of working on any project is together with other artists, and blending their ideas with mine and vice versa. It is lucky that for fun I love improvising on the piano and the most inspiring moments in the process were as I improvised with Meryl to the movements of the dancers. We also had the privilege of working with the evocative projected images of Regis Lansac which became the basis for two of the scenes.
Early on, Meryl and I agreed that we definitely would like to add a soprano to the orchestra that would represent the princess Eliza and add a slightly magical quality to the sound of the orchestra. She also ended up becoming a character on stage in the role of the "good fairy". The sequences with the soprano are amongst those that I feel the most attached to, and have helped give the ballet score an unusual and unique sound.
Being Russian born I have a strong connection to the ballet scores of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, and as a result in the Wild Swans, more than in any other work of mine, I allowed myself the freedom to roam through 200 years of musical genres, ranging from Hungarian Operetta through folk music and even including the influences of jazz and popular music.
— Elena Kats-Chernin
This program note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer