Elena Kats-Chernin: Roses in a Box


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.

Roses in a Box was commissioned as part of pianist William Howard’s ‘Love Song Project’. The piece received its premiere at the 2017 Cheltenham International Music Festival, with Howard at the piano. Kats-Chernin discussed the title in her score notes:


“The title refers to roses delivered to a loved one, they are packed in a box and have a beautiful glow, very tender and elegant. And yet, they could be a farewell gift…

The notes have space around them in this piece – a little like dust over the keys.”


The Music

Scored for solo piano, Roses in a Box begins with a fluctuating theme. There is a gentleness in the character of the work, with the hands constantly intertwining with one another. As the theme develops in the right hand, the bass hand stays consistent with the opening pattern. Kats-Chernin utilises a big range of the piano in the piece, which creates a mixed bag of emotions for the listener. 

As the melody begins to get louder in dynamic, the intensity also grows within the melody. As the patterns slowly change the climax begins to rear its head before it slowly dies away. The opening pattern returns again, this time it is higher in pitch. Roses in a Box concludes quietly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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