Meet the Composers

In our “The Composer is in the Room” program, we feature a line up of all Australian composers.

All of the composer are alive today and actively composing, except for Frederick Septimus Kelly who was sadly killed in the final days of the Battle of the Somme.

Here you can read all of their biographies to see how they fit into the Australian music landscape, as well as hear some of the Steel City Strings Manager selections of the composer’s recorded works.




Among Elena Kats-Chernin’s extensive oeuvre are works in nearly all genres of classical composition: instrumental solo and ensemble pieces, symphonic, chamber orchestral and concertos, for plays, ballet and musical theater, choral and other vocal music. The composer has received numerous commissions from internationally renowned ensembles and institutions, including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian World Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestras of Adelaide, Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony, as well as the opera houses of Antwerp, Stuttgart, and Kassel. She has collaborated with well-known artists such as Shobana Jeyasingh, Didy Veldman, Mahan Esfahani, Avi Avital, Richard Tognetti, Michael Collins, Axel Ranisch, Igor Bauersima, Simone Young, Marin Alsop, Peter Rundel, David Porcelijn, and many more. Her oeuvre is comprehensively documented on CD and DVD.

Kats-Chernin, who was born on 4 November 1957 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as the younger of two daughters of a physician and an engineer, grew up from the age of four in the Russian regional capital of Yaroslavl. She devoted herself since earliest childhood to piano playing. She received instrumental instruction at music school, and later also composition lessons at the Sobinov Conservatory in Yaroslavl. At the age of fourteen, she passed the entrance examination at Moscow’s Gnessin Academy of Music and was one of nine candidates accepted from among 600 applicants. During her training there, her family decided to follow Kats-Chernin’s aunt and uncle, who had emigrated with their family to Australia, and so in 1975, at the age of seventeen, she settled in Sydney, where she continued her studies at the Conservatory of Music with Richard Toop (composition) and Gordon Watson (piano), among others. She received her diploma in 1979, whereby she was the first graduate to be granted a double degree as pianist and composer; for her concert exam, she played her own piano concerto, which also won her the Frank Hutchens Scholarship for Composition of the Music Teachers’ Association of New South Wales.

By means of a DAAD scholarship, she came to Germany, where she studied with Helmut Lachenmann in Hanover from 1980 to 1982 and lived for nearly fourteen years. Kats-Chernin wrote many works for theater and ballet. Her collaborations with director Andrea Berth and choreographer Reinhild Hoffmann led to productions at Vienna’s Burgtheater, at the Schauspielhaus Bochum, and the municipal theaters in Hamburg and Berlin. A close collaboration developed with Ensemble Modern, for whom Kats-Chernin composed the piece Clocks, which was premiered in late 1993, attracted great international attention, and subsequently played by many ensembles, as was the Concertino with solo violin (1994). Shortly before this, in 1993, she composed her first large-scale orchestral work, Retonica, a commission from the Australian Music Centre. Starting around this time, Kats-Chernin underwent a fundamental turn away from modernistic, noise-like musical language to a more accessible tonal style as, for example, in Zoom and Zip (1998). Since then, her music can be described as a personal amalgam of different influences; these include elements of minimal music, dance-like music, classical models, for example from Russian music or the Baroque, as well as Jewish and other folk music traditions.

In 1994 Kats-Chernin returned with her three sons to Australia and settled in a suburb of Sydney, where she lives to the present day. The piece Cadences, Deviations and Scarlatti, composed as a commission from the Sydney Alpha Ensemble with support from the Australia Council for the Arts, was honored with the Classical Music Award of the Australian Music Centre and by the APRA performing rights society as the best composition by an Australian composer; that same year, she received the Jean Bogan Prize for her piano piece Charleston Noir.

In the 1990s she wrote her first opera, Iphis, and, as a commission from ZDF/arte, the silent-film soundtracks to Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage; 1921), Robert Siodmak’s Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday; 1930), and G. W. Pabst’s Abwege (The Devious Path; 1928). For the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, she collaborated with Meryl Tankard and composed Deep Sea Dreaming for children’s choir and orchestra. Wild Swans, after Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of the same name, which was premiered in 2003 by the Australian Ballet and granted the Helpman Award in 2004, also emerged from the collaboration with Meryl Tankard; in 2019 it was accepted into the national Sounds of Australia archive. The Eliza Aria taken from this ballet score was used for many years for the TV/cinema advertising campaign “For the Journey” of the British financial service provider Lloyds and contributed to Kats-Chernin’s international fame.

For the inauguration of Barrie Kosky’s directorship in 2012, she arranged all three of Claudio Monteverdi’s surviving operas for the Komische Oper Berlin. For the theater music to Frankenstein, she was given, together with Daryl Wallis, the 2013 Sydney Theatre Award; in 2014 she received the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award. She was composer in residence of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (2011) and of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (2017). Opera Australia granted commissions for the four-part TV soap opera The Divorce (2015) as well as for the artists’ opera Whiteley (2019).

During the 2019/2020 season, the composer is present with three new musical theater pieces for young audiences: Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer (Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver; Berlin), Die Geschichte von Valemon, dem Eisbärkönig (The Polar Bear King; Luxemburg), and Der Wind in den Weiden (The Wind in the Willows; Kassel).
Elena Kats-Chernin was named Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019, and is “represented artist” of the Australian Music Centre. Her works are published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.

Courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes.


Manager’s Selection: Excerpt of Kats-Chernin’s opera, Whiteley.




Ann is an internationally recognised composer whose music is truly Australian, but embraces her close connection with European music through her family of professional musicians from Bohemia. Her musical style is often classed as ‘chameleon’ and is the outcome of this inheritance.

The European influence is evident in her music which is recognised for its romantic harmonies, adherence to classical form and Australian inspiration.

Her works have been performed at many landmark events, including:

“The Bells of Sydney Harbour”, composed for the opening of the new Ron Sharp organ in the Sydney Opera House, “Images of Australia”, composed for the ABC television documentary marking the bicentenary of European settlement in Australia and the orchestral work “Look at the Stars”, performed by the Australian Youth Orchestra at the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra.

“Beneath the Yellow Moon” in the ABC Classic FM radio series “Images of our Times”.

These landmark events, plus the constant presence of her music in radio broadcasts and concerts and the popularity of such works as Fandango for mandolins, have made her music well known and loved. For the last 20 years Ann’s piano, flute, cello and other instrumental music have been part of the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) syllabus.


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Andrew Ford is a composer, writer and broadcaster who has won awards in each of those capacities, including the 2004 Paul Lowin Prize for his song cycle Learning to Howl, a 2010 Green Room Award for his opera Rembrandt’s Wife and the 2012 Albert H Maggs Prize for his large ensemble piece, Rauha.

He has been composer-in-residence for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. In 2014 he was Poynter Fellow and Visiting Composer at Yale University and, in 2015, Visiting lecturer at the Shanghai Conservatory.

A former academic, Ford has written widely on all manner of music and published ten books, most recently The Song Remains the Same with Anni Heino (La Trobe University Press, 2019). He has written, presented and co-produced five radio series and, since 1995, presented The Music Show each weekend on ABC Radio National. In 2018, Andrew Ford was H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellow at the Australian National University.


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Moya Henderson is one of Australia’s most accomplished composers and instrument designers with a career spanning over four decades.

Moya graduated from the University of Queensland with first class honours in 1972, In 1973 she was appointed Resident Composer to the then Australian Opera during its inaugural season at the Sydney Opera House. She was awarded a DAAD Scholarship and a Travel Grant from the Music Board of the Australian Council for the Arts, which enabled her to continue her studies in music-theater and composition in Germany.

Between 1974 and 1976 Moya attended the Cologne Musikhochschule, in Germany – one of the world’s most acclaimed music universities. There she studied music-theater with Mauricio Kagel and composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen, two of the most important and interesting composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. In 1974 she attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses for Composition and Performance. The short music-theater piece, Clearing the Air was written during the Darmstadt sessions, and on the strength of it, she was awarded the Kranichsteiner Prize for Composition at the course’s end. The music-theater piece, Stubble, was a highlight of the 1976 Darmstadt Courses. Moya returned to Sydney, Australia in 1976.

She continues to work as a free-lance and commissioned composer ever since and has developed a broad and significant body of work.

In September 1983 Moya’s work for organ and pre-recorded tape, Sacred Site, was given its first performance in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House by David Kinsela. This work was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House Trust to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

In 2002, her opera, Lindy, was produced and presented by Opera Australia in the opera theatre of the Sydney Opera House to considerable critical and popular acclaim.

Moya Henderson has several achievements in the field of instrument design. While in Germany in the mid-seventies she received a commission from the sculptor and master designer Helfried Hagenberg to compose music to be played on a sculpture he had created from twenty-seven triangles. The sound she discovered during the course of completing this commission led her to research and eventually develop the alemba, a keyboard percussion instrument. She was awarded one of the inaugural CSIRO Artist-in-Residence Fellowships in November 1983, and another residency in 1986 enabled her to work on an improved fine-tuning of the bass alemba. Treble and bass alembas have been used several times by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Moya also invented the Tosca Bells and the ‘noose’ for stringed instruments, which enables the composer to write ‘natural’ harmonics on virtually every note within the range of the string orchestra. The first work to make use of this invention was her work The Dreaming.


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Matthew Hindson AM (b. 1968, Wollongong) is one of the most-performed and most-commissioned composers in the world, and a leading Australian composer of his generation. As well as being performed by every Australian orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic among many others, Matthew’s music has been set by dance companies such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, National Ballet of Japan and the Sydney Dance Company.

Matthew is the Deputy Dean and Associate Dean (Education) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. From 2004-2010 he was the artistic director of the Aurora Festival which is dedicated to the work of living composers. In 2006 Matthew was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his contributions to music education and composition. From 2009-2013 Matthew was the Chair of the Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and from 2013-2015, a board member of the same organisation.


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Frederick Septimus Kelly was one of Australia’s great cultural losses of World War One: a composer the equal of Vaughan Williams, who survived Gallipoli but was cut down in the final days of the Battle of the Somme. His music – crafted entirely in his head, and only committed to paper once perfected – displays touching lyricism and profound invention. Even during the war, he never stopped writing music: on troop ships during long ocean crossings, in training camps, in the trenches of Gallipoli, in a military hospital recovering from war wounds, in a bombed-out cellar barely 300 metres from enemy lines in France. This album presents his complete catalogue of orchestral works, many recorded here for the first time.

Born in Sydney, ‘Sep’ Kelly’s precocious musical talent quickly moved beyond his local piano teachers, and he was sent to boarding school in England at Eton. There, alongside his advanced musical training, he began a career in rowing – a sport in which he would win a gold medal at the 1908 Olympic Games. From Eton to Oxford to conservatorium studies in Frankfurt, he excelled as both pianist and composer, writing his first symphony (which he modestly titled a Suite) in his mid 20s. The work, here renamed German Symphony, displays an astonishing fluency and command of orchestral colour, with hints of Brahms and Mahler and finishing with a magnificently extravagant fugue.

Tantalisingly, we know from Kelly’s diaries that he composed at least two other symphonies, but never wrote them out. Three months before his death, he spoke of his many compositions ‘waiting to be written – but there is no time to get them down on paper.’ We do, however, have two major orchestral works which highlight the depth of the talent which was lost to us. The first of these is a Serenade of transcendental beauty for flute, harp, horn and strings, written at sea, on a journey home to Australia: the first movement on the Indian Ocean, the second off the coast of Western Australia, the third in the Great Australian Bight, the fourth off the coast of Victoria and the fifth off the coast of NSW.

In the Elegy in memoriam Rupert Brooke, Kelly pours out his grief in the wake of the death of the poet Rupert Brooke. The two had become close friends en route to Gallipoli, but Brooke was to die of septicaemia before they reached the Dardanelles. The music, composed in a dug-out with bullets whistling overhead, recalls the haunting beauty and strange tranquillity of Brooke’s funeral, conducted by moonlight on the eve of battle in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros, the air perfumed with wild sage and thyme.

Courtesy ABC Classic.


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2024 Season Announcement

Steel City Strings is thrilled to announce an exciting 2024 Season Program. A new year will bring 3 carefully curated programs to delight all concert goers who love string music. Program 1 – “Identity” tells the story of human nature and the amazing ability within all of us to create beauty even in circumstances where […]

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Renowned Saxophonist Pays Tribute to Local Area – Body and Soul.

Media Release For Immediate Release October 31st, 2023. Renowned Saxophonist Pays Tribute to Local Area – Body and Soul. Steel City Strings has a proven track record of outstanding commissions from Australian composers and this new work from Nick Russoniello is no exception. Wollongong-raised saxophonist Nick Russoniello was the perfect fit for the orchestra. A […]

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Cellissimo Premiere – The cellists

The cellists of Steel City Strings have formed a cello quartet. We are proud to introduce them as “Cellissimo”. In their inaugural program, Cellissimo have chosen a delicious program. In this year of 2023, ABC Classic FM listeners voted the cello Australia’s favourite instrument. This program is a celebration of the depth and range of […]

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The members of Steel City Strings are outstanding examples of hard work, enterprise, enthusiasm and dedication. They reach for the stars and beyond. More power to these wonderful people.

Richard Gill AO

In Debussy's Sacred and Profane Dances of 1904 the orchestra was joined by harpist Paulina Smirnov whose scintillating playing created a wonderful and subtly-nuanced centrepiece for the concert.


A fascinating program of works from various musical periods... The orchestra played with a strong sense of ensemble, and brought an infectious verve to the Mozart.



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