Born in 1957 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Kats-Chernin received training at the Gnessin Musical College before immigrating to Australia in 1975. She graduated from the New South Wales Conservatory in 1980 and was awarded a DAAD (German academic exchange) grant to study with Helmut Lachenmann in Hanover. She remained in Germany for 13 years, returning in 1994 to Australia where she now lives in Sydney.
One of Australia’s leading composers, Elena Kats-Chernin has created works in nearly every genre. Among her many commissions are pieces for Ensemble Modern, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Adelaide, Tasmanian and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, Present Music, City of London Sinfonia, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the North Carolina Symphony.
Her brilliantly scored, energetic, and often propulsive music has been choreographed by dance-makers around the world. In 2000 she collaborated with leading Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard in a series of large-scale dance works. The first of these, "Deep Sea Dreaming", was broadcast to an audience of millions worldwide as part of the opening ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Recent works include the concerto for basset clarinet and chamber orchestra Ornamental Air which has been toured internationally and also released on CD for Chandos by Michael Collins, and her fourth opera The Rage of Life, staged in Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland. For the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and choir, she composed Prelude and Cube.
Kats-Chernin's music continues to be heard on TV and at the cinema in the UK with the long-running Lloyds TSB advertising campaign "For the journey…" employing Eliza Aria from her ballet Wild Swans. Her piece Russian Rag became Max's theme in the claymation film "Max & Mary" by Adam Elliott.
In 2011 Kats-Chernin was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Her first symphony, Symphonia Eluvium for organ, choir and orchestra commemorating the devastating Queensland floods of January 2011, was premiered that year by QSO conducted by Asher Fisch at the Brisbane Festival. In 2012, the work was voted by the readers of the Australian monthly performing arts journal Limelight as the best composition of the year.
Elena Kats-Chernin is one of the subjects of a "Creative Minds" 6 episode series of artist’s portraits. The documentary by Robin Hughes was made for Australian TV’s STUDIO channel. A CD of her complete music for string quartet, performed by Acacia, was released under the title "Blue Silence" by Vexations840 in 2012.
One of Elena Kats-Chernin’s most recent major premieres was her adaptation of Monteverdi’s three operas (Orpheus, Odysseus, Poppea) at the Komische Oper Berlin, directed by Barrie Kosky, in September 2012 – a 12 hour Marathon performance with live telecast on 3sat TV.
In January 2014, her music for the drama Frankenstein at the Sydney Ensemble Theatre won jointly the "Sydney Theatre Award 2013 for best score". In March 2014 she was a joint winner of Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award.
In September 2015 Shobana Jeyasingh's dance work Material Men was premiered with Elena Kats-Chernin’s score performed by Smith String Quartet at the Southbank Centre in London.
Her opera Schneewittchen und die 77 Zwerge opened at Komische Oper Berlin on the 1st November 2015. The dance piece Three Dancers, choreographed by Didy Veldman, to Elena’s music had been premiered at Sadler’s Wells, London, on the 3rd November 2015.
Two more world premieres, in 2016 The Witching Hour, a concerto for 8 double basses and orchestra, and Singing Trees for string orchestra, commissioned by the Australian World Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra respectively were performed at the Sydney Opera House..
Elena Kats-Chernin's music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.