Current Issue #488

Australian Chamber Orchestra Brings Back Bach

Australian Chamber Orchestra Brings Back Bach

The stunningly eclectic Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) return to Adelaide to present Bach Violin Concertos, a night of “pretty pure Bach” according to artistic director Richard Tognetti.

The ACO recently finished a residency at London’s Barbican Centre. Tognetti was able to showcase the breadth of the chamber orchestra at the Barbican, playing five concerts including the electronic music night Tognetti: Electronic and a night of Beethoven and Brahms with the Guildhall School of Music, which led to The Guardian calling the ACO “one of the wonders of the music world” in a five-star review.

The 51-year-old Tognetti has been in charge of the Sydney-based ACO for more than half his life, taking the reins as a 24-year-old. In that time he has transformed the group into one of this country’s most acclaimed and experimental musical exports that have wowed critics around the world. They also actively perform new work, commissioning pieces by composers as diverse as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Carl Vine.

Known for his love of Bach, Tognetti has won three ARIA awards for his recordings of the German maestro, while the first album he received was a recording of Bach from his mother when he was 12.

“I actually haven’t played… I’ve recorded a lot of Bach, we haven’t taken it on a tour with just the ACO,” Tognetti says. “So, that’s the reason [for the tour]. The last really major Bach project was the Bach Oratorio, the Christmas Oratorio back in 2013.”

The same “extraordinary rhythm” that captured his imagination as 12-year-old inspires him now.

“For the concertos, he [Bach] was inspired by Vivaldi and the Italian concerto. It was an extraordinary mix of the virtuosic and that endless easing melody that came out of Bach’s genius mind. It’s just not gratuitous virtuosity; it was mixed with an extraordinary profundity.”

Also, according to Tognetti, Bach can be experimented with.

“You can take it where the Swingle Singers have gone, Wendy Carlos and the jazz musician Jacques Loussier. And the music is only strengthened not weakened; it doesn’t sound cheaper.”

Despite this, Bach Violin Concertos will be a pretty straightforward night of Bach, for the ACO at least, as Tognetti will just tamper with one arrangement. “This [tour] is pretty pure Bach,” he says, about the night that will also feature two Haydn symphonies.

“They are great fun to play and a rarely performed symphony called The Philosopher [Symphony No.22 in E-flat major], nicknamed The Philosopher, features cor anglais pitted against horns. It creates one of the most extraordinary sounds to come out of the human imagination.”

The ACO will make four more visits to Adelaide this year, including their cinematic follow-up to The Reef, Mountain, directed by Sherpa’s Jennifer Eden.

“We’re playing live in front of a screen and it is a bespoke film, so we’ve commissioned a film and Jen [Eden] has crafted [together] some existing footage and original footage to create an arthouse piece of cinema. What makes it different from The Reef is it’s got a narrative through it written by Robert Macfarlane who wrote Mountains of the Mind. It’s narrated by Willem Dafoe.”

Australian Chamber Orchestra: Bach Violin Concertos
Adelaide Town Hall
Tuesday, April 4, 7.30pm

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