In November 2017 Richard Tognetti took to the Royal Festival Hall stage to lead a performance from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, but how much do you know about the violinist, composer and conductor?
Born in Canberra and raised in Wollongong, Tognetti studied in Sydney with Alice Waten, before undertaking a post-graduate study with Igor Ozim at the Bern Conservatory, where he was awarded the Tschumi Prize in 1989. However, whilst many Australian classical performers of the past, and present, may have stayed in Europe, Tognetti couldn’t wait to get back to the surf and sun of the Manly coastline.
On his return to Australia from Switzerland in 1989, Tognetti joined the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and a year later was made was made Artistic Director and lead violinist, at the age of just 25. He remains at the helm today, with his leadership steering the ACO to a standing of one of the leading chamber orchestras in the world.
Such a youthful takeover, and subsequent long-standing leadership, of an orchestra would be an admirable accomplishment alone, but as well as holding these accolades Tognetti is an incredibly skilled and versatile performer in his own right. As well as classical works he has also performed globally on the electric violin, most notably with the Australian rocker Iva Davies for the international millennium broadcast on 31 December 1999, and also Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. And, he has regularly wowed in guest appearances with other ensembles, particularly as a soloist with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Tognetti first met Russell Crowe when the actor threw an impromptu champagne party for the ACO at the end of a US tour. From there, their unlikely friendship grew, and when Crowe was required to play the violin in his role for the film Master and Commander it was to Tognetti he turned for some expert coaching.
Both figuratively and literally. In 1999 Tognetti was made a National Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia, placing him on a list of 100 living Australians that have made a substantial and enduring contribution to Australia.
As artistic director of the Maribor Festival he was, in 2011, tasked with filling a void in the programme at just three days notice. His solution? Nothing. A multi-dimensional musical exploration of nothingness which included Jon Cage’s 4’33, Barry Humphries reciting William Walton’s Façade, as well as black holes, the number zero and death. The video portrayals of the latter of which - as Tognetti later told The Guardian - left the audience ‘horrified’ and ‘disgusted’.
An avid surfer, in May 2012 Tognetti fused two of his passions together, taking both musicians and surfers to the rugged surf coast and tough desert landscape of northern Western Australia to create a new performance piece at the intersection of music and nature.