Elena Kats-Chernin was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on November 4, 1957. She studied at the Yaroslavl School of Music from 1962-1971. During these years she also studied figure skating. From 1972-1975 she studied in Moscow at the Russian Academy of Music.
In 1975 Kats-Chernin emigrated to Australia where she studied until 1980 at the Sydney-based New South Wales Conservatory under composition teacher Richard Toop. From 1980-1994 Kats-Chernin lived mostly in Germany where she continued her studies, first at the Musikhochschule Hannover with Helmut Lachenmann and then at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart.
While Kats-Chernin's early works date to her student years and include such successful pieces as the 1979 Chechyotka -- Tap Dancing, for trombone and piano, and the 1982 chamber work In Tension, her most important breakthroughs came in the 1990s and turn-of-the-century era with Clocks (1993), Charleston Noir (1996), Cadences, deviations and Scarlatti (1996), and Wild Swans (2002). For Cadences the Australian Music Centre and APRA presented her with the award for the Best Composition by an Australian Composer for 1996.
In the new century Kats-Chernin has received many further honors including, in 2004, both the Green Room and Helpman awards for Wild Swans. She has been making headway abroad as well: in 2006 Kats-Chernin's Purple Silence, for four horns, was premiered in Berlin by the horn section of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; and in 2008 her Concerto for basset clarinet and small orchestra was premiered by soloist Michael Collins and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. That same year the Suite from the Wild Swans was performed at Royal Festival Hall in London by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephen Barlow, with soprano soloist Jane Sheldon. In 2009 Kats-Chernin wrote a somewhat exotically scored work, Garden of Dreams, for didgeridoo, piano, and orchestra. It was a success at its May 2009 premiere in Canberra with the Canberra International Chamber Festival Ensemble and didgeridoo soloist William Barton. Among the more important recordings of Kats-Chernin's works is the 2008 Tall Poppies CD entitled Slow Food (reissued in 2011), whereon the composer performs 18 short piano pieces she arranged mostly from her larger works.