The ACO Artistic Director honoured by the Helpmann Awards for longstanding service to the live performing industry.

Violinist and Australian Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director Richard Tognetti has been announced as the recipient of the 2017 JC Williamson Award. The announcement was made at an orchestra rehearsal at the ACO’s headquarters on Circular Quay. The Award will be presented to Tognetti at the 2017 Helpmann Awards Ceremony on July 24 at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

“The JC Williamson Award is presented in recognition of a longstanding contribution to the live performance industry and is bestowed on an individual who has made a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Australia’s live performance culture and shaped the future of the industry for the better,” President of Live Performance Australia Andrew Kay said in a statement. “As the esteemed Artistic Director of Australian Chamber Orchestra for the past 27 years and an award-winning violinist, Richard exemplifies the spirit of this Award.”

Richard Tognetti, JC Helpmann Award 2017Richard Tognetti, JC Williamson Helpmann Award Winner. Photo © Chris Pavlich

The prestigious JC Williamson Award – named for entrepreneurial actor and theatre manager James Cassius Williamson – was first presented in 1998, and has been awarded to artists including Dame Joan Sutherland, Barry Humphries, Kylie Minogue, David Williamson and Graeme Murphy. Last year’s award went to Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Stephen Page.

“It came as a big surprise to be nominated for this award. I thought this award was for luminaries and I don’t consider myself one of those. I was 10 years old and living in Wollongong when the Australian Chamber Orchestra was cleaved by John Painter and company out of the rock face of what was then the collection of ABC orchestras,” Tognetti said in a statement. “The ACO was created with the purpose of giving musicians control over their musical destiny – just 13 of them in the beginning. And now, 42 years later, there are 17 of us and I have been fortunate enough to be Artistic Director of this remarkable group of musicians since 1990. I consider this an award to all my colleagues, not just at the ACO but my many and diverse collaborators over the years.”

“I am just a cog in the wheel,” the violinist said in a speech at the announcement. “It’s [due to] the support of my colleagues that I’m in this position – there’s absolutely no question about that.”

Tognetti went on to acknowledge that while the Orchestra was very much an Australian affiar when he started as Artistic Director 27 years ago, it now boasts musicians from all over the world. “It was very hard to keep people on these shores, let alone to attract people from all corners of the world,” he said.

“When I was a student there was a cultural diaspora,” Tognetti explained. “We all saved up our money to buy the one-way ticket to Europe or America, with a view to possibly deign to return every now and again adorned with the jewels of success that one could garner from overseas ventures. For some reason I ended up getting a one-way ticket coming back the other way, and I’ve stayed.”

“All of my colleagues from that era went and very few of them did come back for good,” he said. “And it’s a testament to how Australia has evolved that so many of my colleagues have decided not to buy that one-way ticket, but rather stay here. And the cultural institutions such as [Live Performance Australia], the education institutions such as ANAM, are all testament to the evolution of this country culturally. And so I take this award with the utmost seriousness.”

Subscribe to Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine