Some performers of Richard Tognetti’s calibre and fame would celebrate their 50th year on earth with a gala concert – but the artistic director and lead violinist of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) decided to take a break instead of indulging in an overblown celebration.
“I celebrated by taking a bit of a sidestep, so I have just been watching others perform in the ACO, which has been a delight,” says Tognetti, who has been part of the ACO audience for the last three months. “I’ve actually learnt a lot, because it’s important, of course, to understand that two-way conversation that is performance art, whether it’s in the theatre or a concert.” Tognetti, who has been the ACO’s artistic director for 26 years, will be back on stage and performing with the ACO when the celebrated chamber orchestra returns to Adelaide for its Brahms 3 concert in late August, as he just “wanted to take time out”. “I’m working on all these big projects and normally I’m doing everything on the run. I thought, ‘Nup, I’m going to be a normal artistic director and take time out’. That’s what I did. And of course people were trying to get me to do gala concerts in the Opera House; I couldn’t think of anything worse than to bore people with my birthday celebrations.” Tognetti was on stage with the ACO when they toured the United States to acclaim in April this year. Their three-week jaunt concluded at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where the BBC’s Nick Bryant glowingly reported of their New York performance: “The musicality of the ACO would have been more than enough to bring the Carnegie audience to its feet … But it’s the physicality of the performance that sets this orchestra apart, and makes watching them as thrilling as listening.” This review comes after London’s The Telegraph called the ACO the “greatest chamber orchestra on earth” in 2014 after the UK premiere of the Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) commission Water. The ACO will be heading on two international tours next year, with Tognetti looking at more residencies in the northern hemisphere for the boundary-pushing ACO. “I’ve got a residency in the Barbican [London] next year and I’m going to bring the orchestra the year after – it’s a split residency. We’ve got a sort-of residency with the Hong Kong Festival and that’s more how we want to work.” After touring Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in 2010 and No. 4 in 2013, the ACO will return to Adelaide for Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. What attracts Tognetti to Brahms’ 1883 masterpiece is its famed Third Movement, which has been covered by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Santana. Tognetti calls the Third Movement the “greatest pop song ever written”. “Now that I’m studying it I can see that he [Brahms] focussed everything around this movement and the slow movement architecturally fits there almost as an afterglow of the first movement, almost like embers before the flame just lifts off up in the third movement. I always knew this movement but didn’t know the symphony. I just had to program it, just to play that.” Brahms’ friend and music critic Eduard Hanslick said No. 3 was artistically Brahms’s “most nearly perfect” of the four symphonies. “Isn’t that interesting? It was the most popular. The best received. And it’s what really put him in the pantheon of great composers in the eyes of the German Viennese public. He was maybe quite surprised by it. It was his shortest symphony, too. It’s only 30 minutes.” Also on the ACO’s program for Brahms 3 is Mozart’s Overture from The Magic Flute and Sinfonia concentrate in E Flat major, which will be a chance to hear Tognetti and Christopher Moore (ACO’s principal viola) perform Sinfonia concertante for the first time since 2010. “It’s just a great piece to play,” says Tognetti. “It might be Mozart’s finest concerto. It’s certainly one of the strangest, writing for a detuned viola and the violin. Very interesting.” Australian Chamber Orchestra Brahms 3 Adelaide Town Hall Tuesday, August 25 aco.com.au