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Macquarie’s Castle celebrated in world-premiere performance at The Chancellor’s Concert

31 March 2016

A world-premiere performance of a new Elena Kats-Chernin work headlines the 2016 Chancellor’s Concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Friday 8 April.

Elena Kats-Chernin, composer and alumna of the Con, premieres her new work Macquarie’s Castle at The Chancellor’s Concert on 8 April. Image: courtesy of the artist.

The Soviet-born alumna of the Con was commissioned by the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music to create a work that celebrates its centenary in 2015, thanks to a generous donation by alumnus Kim Williams AM.

One of the most versatile composers in Australia today, Kats-Chernin is known for her award-winning orchestral works, operas and compositions that span theatre, dance and film. Her new work Macquarie’s Castle, a saxophone concerto, salutes the magnificent building that was Governor Macquarie’s horse stables turned music school in 1915, and today houses Australia’s premier tertiary music institution.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Anna Reid, Dean and Principal (Acting) of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said: "The celebratory piece draws connections between the building’s colonial heritage and rich music history, which Elena Kats-Chernin skillfully delivers with enormous energy, drama and passion through her music. It will be a spectacular premiere in the Verbrugghen Concert Hall, which sits on the site of the former Macquarie stables,” she said.

The composer remarked on the inspiration for her new work:

The idea of this grand building conceived as stables of the future Government House inspired me to think of work, production, labour and everything that goes into not just the construction of bricks and mortar, but the construction of a musical life, community, careers and education.
Elena Kats-Chernin

"Who would have thought that this home for horses would resound with music one hundred years later and beyond?" she added.

The new Kats-Chernin saxophone concerto will be performed by Con lecturer Dr Michael Duke. “The saxophone has a powerful and versatile voice, so I wanted to create a piece where it could shine as a solo instrument. Immediately I thought of driving rhythms, long melodies, plenty of energy and a wide dynamic range,” said Elena Kats-Chernin.

The composition comprises four movements: The Palace for Horses, Training, Stable Music and Spring Carnival. The first movement reflects on the toil, hardship and groundwork that goes into creating something big that lasts and continues. In the second movement, the composer considers the dual purpose of the building, imagining at first the training and work of the horses, and later the scales and arpeggios that would come from every corner of the music castle.

In the third movement, Elena Kats-Chernin said: “It is a kind of waltz to which I tried to give that bit of elegance, that bit of grandeur, that tinge of beauty, which I first saw in 1975 in my first year at the Conservatorium.” On a more surreal note, she imagines the spirit of the horses who lived there, revisiting their old home when they heard the intriguing sounds that emanated from the sandstone stables.

For the finale of the piece, she commented: “I always recall the big events that were happening and the carnival atmosphere that accompanied them. So I wanted to write something that would fizz and sparkle, that would hit its groove and convey those moments that I experienced, remember and hold dear.”

The annual University of Sydney Chancellor’s Concert launches the concert season for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music each year. The 2016 concert will also feature the Con’s Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Eduardo Diazmuñoz. They will perform Matthew Hindson’s new contemporary work Marathon for the ballet Faster, originally written for the Birmingham Royal Ballet for the London Olympics, and the popular Symphony No. 4 by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner.