Elena Kats-Chernin: Dance of the Paper Umbrellas


Born in 1957, Elena Kats-Chernin is one of Australia’s leading composers. She was born in Uzbekistan and immigrated to Australia in the 1970s, where she graduated from the New South Wales Conservatory of Music in 1980. She was awarded the DAAD German exchange award and she travelled to Germany to study with Helmut Lachenmann. She subsequently stayed in Germany for nearly 14 years before she returned to Australia, where she now resides in Sydney. 

Kats-Chernin has worked with a number of artists and ensembles during her career, including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the North Carolina Symphony. Her works span a number of genres, and are often commended for being both musically intelligent, but still really accessible. Her music was heard at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, as well as on TV and film. Her colourful approach to music makes it some of the most easy to listen to contemporary music.

Dance of the Paper Umbrellas was composed for the Hush Foundation, which was originally developed by Dr Catherine Crock. The idea being that the foundation puts together albums of music to help reduce stress and anxiety that was felt by both patients and families whilst in hospital. It is described by the foundation as:


“The Hush music collection transforms the environment through the use of carefully curated music from some of Australia’s foremost musicians and talents, and is now played in hospitals, homes and shared spaces across the globe.”


For the past decade The Hush Foundation has been the largest commissioner of independent music in Australia, winning awards and accolades for their contribution to the music industry. Focusing on classical music, The Hush Foundation has worked with some of the country’s most well-known and loved composers, conductors and orchestras, who selflessly donate their time and talent to produce these albums.

Dance of the Paper Umbrellas features in the 13th instalment of the Hush collection, which was released in 2015. Kats-Chernin worked closely with the foundation for this release, with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra recording the music and Benjamin Northey conducting. Subtitled ‘The Magic Island’ the whole album is full of musical delights.


The Music

Opening with a serene harp, marimba and piano, the sparkling effect soon entices other instruments to join in. delicate flutes bounce of the rhythms played by the harp and piano. There is a sweetness in the violin melody that sits on top of the established opening phrases. 

The music is playful, bouncy and animated, with Kats-Chernin using tuned percussion to add the sparkle on top. The clarinets present a new melody, which the strings soon take over. With every new melody comes more instruments, with the trumpets entering for the first time at this point. You can hear a development in the melody as Kats-Chernin plays with syncopation in the rhythms whilst also changing up the textures to create intrigue. 

The music bounces along as the strings go into their top register as the trumpets play the original melody. The glockenspiel and piano pierce the texture here to create a sense of magic within the music. Dance of the Paper Umbrellas comes to a quiet close as the texture begins to thin before the final notes are popped out.


Final Thoughts

Elena Kats-Chernin’s Dance of the Paper Umbrellas is a joyous piece of music that is calm and animated at the same time. The bouncy melodies paired with the clever scoring makes this work a real treat to listen to. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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