In 2013, the ACO premieres Brett Dean’s electric violin concerto and brings Andreas Scholl out of his shell.

Read Limelight‘s exclusive in-depth interview with Richard Tognetti here

Richard Tognetti audibly swells with pride when I ask what he’s most looking forward to in 2013 as artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. “Finding the time in Brett Dean’s busy schedule to write me a violin concerto,” he answers instantly. 

Not just any concerto, but a “massive new commission” for electric violin. “Think beyond a violin,” Tognetti continues. “I don’t want it to sound like a violin that’s plugged in; I want it to be a broken-up universe of sounds. I haven’t unleashed [my electric violin] on the public in this guise before and there’s no better person to do that than Brett.” It is with the brave new world of Electric Preludes that Tognetti will open the ACO’s 2013 season in February, but he hasn’t abandoned his priceless 1743 Guarneri, which will be heard in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 in the same concerts. 

Next year, Tognetti hands the reins to four soloists who have become familiar faces in Australia through recent ACO tours: cellist Steven Isserlis, Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (styled “The Barefoot Fiddler” during her 2010 stint as guest director), Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst and Barry Humphries. But the artistic director promises these repeat visitors will keep the orchestra and audiences on their toes. “It’s not like we just lazily reinvited people,” he says. “They’re totally different projects and I personally like to look at the ACO as a collective of people with whom we work on a continuing basis and try to build up relationships. The orchestra certainly doesn’t want a different face every time we have a guest director.” 

Following on from the Beethoven symphonies cycle, the ACO again uses expanded forces, this time featuring Isserlis on his Stradivarius cello. “I’ve been trying to get Steven to play the Dvorák concerto for ages and at last he’s agreed,” Tognetti laughs.

On the same program, with a full complement of instruments including natural horns (“a revelation; you never want to hear it on modern horn again!”), the ACO takes on Brahms’s monumental Fouth Symphony. “Brahms was asked if he wanted a bigger orchestra but he said no,” Tognetti explains. “He was happy with 48 instruments, so that’s music to our ears.” 

In his ACO performances last year, Martin Fröst was not content simply to play the clarinet; he couldn’t resist moonwalking at the same time. No plans to appear on Dancing With The Stars on his second visit to Australia, but he will be giving the world premiere of a new work by his composer brother Göran, with fiendishly difficult, marionettelike choreography thrown in for kicks. Just as Tognetti’s Mozart/Brett Dean program balances old and new, Fröst will interpret his brother’s freshly inked score alongside Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. 

Tognetti has also enticed Barry Humphries to return, fresh from Dame Edna farewell shows, to present wicked songs from Weimar Germany; the music of Kurt Weill is a “real passion” for the legendary Australian entertainer. 

One artist already beloved by Australian audiences but making his ACO debut is German countertenor Andreas Scholl, the pride of Musica Viva and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra on previous tours. Although Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater is on the menu, these performances also draw Scholl out of his Baroque comfort zone with Philip Glass’s Leonard Cohen song cycle The Book of Longing. The orchestra rounds out the year in a festive mood with John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. 

Tognetti continues his music and film collaborations with video artist Jon Frank, this time sans surfboard. He describes The Crowd as “an experimental project exploring crowds as inspired by different forces from football crowds to mosh pits” against a wide-ranging musical backdrop of Shostakovich, Sibelius, Morton Feldman, George Crumb and more. “I love recontextualising music – I just can’t help myself,” he says. 

“The main thing really is I love the way that when you put certain types of music to visuals that you see different things in the music and you hear different things in the visuals. And it’s this cross-sensory and extra-sensory perception that you get [in The Crowd]. We found a portal that we have offered to people who would never normally listen to our kind of exclusive club of classical music.” 

A “truly hybrid orchestra”, then, with a hybrid audience.

View the full details of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s 2013 season here