New works by Australia-based composer Elena Kats-Chernin include The Witching Hour for eight double basses and orchestra and Singing Trees for string orchestra.
Eight double basses are the unlikely stars of Elena Kats-Chernin’s new concerto The Witching Hour. Commissioned by the Australian World Orchestra for its fifth anniversary concert, the colourful 22-minute work received its premiere in Sydney in September, followed by a tour to Singapore, under the baton of Alexander Briger.
The composer explains her title as "the time when everything is possible, all the ghosts can come out but also all the magical, beautiful things can happen". The fantastic beasts that emerge from the orchestra are the eight double basses while the work also refers to the witch Baba Yaga familiar from Mussorgsky and Liadov.
"The Witching Hour necessitated something of a role reversal as the eight mighty soloists shifted from the back row into the front, the size of their basses an impressive sight to behold… the concerto explores episodes from the traditional Russian tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, a resourceful little girl who outwits a wicked witch thanks to some help from a magic doll… All hell erupts, replete with wacky percussion, the eight soloists galumphing away over the top of it all… It's all great fun and full of energy, as Vasilisa tackles the various tasks set her by the gruesome enchantress."
"The Witching Hour highlighted Kats-Chernin’s distinctive compositional gifts. All four movements were dominated by appealing melodies and catchy rhythms, while her beguiling orchestrations provided a colourful and, at times, eerie backdrop."
The fairy-tale forest setting of The Witching Hour was suggested when Kats-Chernin watched the bass section ‘looking like massive, swaying trees", and the sylvan theme was continued in her new work for the Australian Chamber Orchestra entitled Singing Trees. Here the wood takes the form of the material of the Italian string instruments themselves, as played by the musicians at the premiere.
"…four movements in a near-symphony sequence dealing with woods employed in string-instrument construction: maple, ebony, willow, spruce… Kats-Chernin moves through treatments of a Middle-European folk-like melody, a slow lament, spasmodic gruppetti for a scherzo, and a moto perpetuo, minimalism-suggestive elongated finale: fine material for displaying the physically expressive potential of this body."
Sydney Morning Herald
Photos: Elena Kats-Chernin (Bruria Hammer) and the premiere of <i>The Witching Hour</i> (Australian World Orchestra/Anna Kubera)
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