What does the ACO’s charismatic leader really think about music and politics? A no-holds-barred interview.

Richard Tognetti is an opinionated man in the wrong business. As the artistic director and leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, he can express himself musically to his heart’s content, yet concert protocol frowns upon turning to the audience mid-cadenza to talk about what’s really on your mind. Which is why I have showed up, brandishing the promise of conversational carte blanche, at the Sydney beachside pad Tognetti shares with his partner, fellow ACO violinist Satu Vänskä.

The ACO’s publicist Mary meets us at the door and asks the photographer and me to remove our shoes. I’ve been warned about the snow-white wooden floors of Casa Tognetti (Vänskä’s Nordic influence). Richard is napping, and so we tiptoe inside in our socks like we’re playing a parlour game. I’ve also been warned about several topics that make Tognetti angry: classical music as elitist; the concept of heritage art; funding cuts for orchestras; the Strad tests… I make a mental note to ask about all these things.

But it’s Tognetti who sneaks a barbed question in first as we’re setting up for the photo shoot. “Was André...

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