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Richard Leo Tognetti, AO (born 4 August 1965) is an Australian violinist, composer and conductor. He is currently artistic director and leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) and artistic director of the Maribor Festival in Maribor, Slovenia.
Early life and education
Richard Tognetti was born in Canberra, Australia and raised in Wollongong. He studied briefly with the violist William Primrose in Wollongong, and then at the Sydney Conservatorium High School with Alice Waten. In 1980 he won the National Youth Concerto Competition held in Brisbane with the Queensland Youth Symphony under John Curro. He undertook post-graduate study with Igor Ozim at the Bern Conservatory, where he was awarded the Tschumi Prize in 1989.
On his return to Australia in 1989 the board of the Australian Chamber Orchestra appointed him artistic director and lead violinist – at only 25 years of age. Under Tognetti's leadership, the orchestra has earned a reputation as one of the leading chamber orchestras in the world. The Times has gone so far as to say "This group must be the best chamber orchestra on earth."
Tognetti is an extremely versatile violinist, performing on modern and electric instruments. For example, with Australian rock musician Iva Davies, he co-wrote and performed on 31 December 1999 for an international millennium broadcast The Ghost of Time on electric violin, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
He has also performed with various musicians from different genres. His musical abilities extend to arranging music for different ensemble types. He has arranged the music of composers such as Janáček, Szymanowski, Paganini, Beethoven, Ravel and Satie, greatly expanding the chamber orchestra repertoire. In 2008, he wrote The Red Tree for children's choir, chamber orchestra and projected images with Michael Yezerski, inspired by the illustrated book by Shaun Tan.
Tognetti maintains a busy schedule in Australia and globally with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as well as with other groups. He has played at events such as the Salzburg Festival and has made appearances with the Handel & Haydn Society (Boston), Hong Kong Philharmonic, Camerata Salzburg, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Irish Chamber Orchestra and the Nordic Chamber Orchestra. He also conducts opera, making his debut in the 2001 Sydney Festival, conducting Mozart's Mitridate, re di Ponto.
Among his ever-more varied activities have been an appearance at the Opening Ceremony of the 2003 Rugby World Cup with James Crabb and work on Peter Weir's 2003 film Master and Commander – as composer, soundtrack soloist and violin tutor to Russell Crowe. His film about music and surfing, Musica Surfica, won Best Feature at the 2008 New York Surf Film Festival.
In 2009, Tognetti celebrated 20 years as artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Tognetti is heavily involved in the making of recordings, performing as soloist in the concerti of Beethoven, Mozart, Dvořák and the Australian premiere of the Ligeti concerto. He has also led the Australian Chamber Orchestra in critically acclaimed recordings of works such as the Beethoven piano concertos with Stephen Kovacevich, the Bach keyboard concertos with Angela Hewitt, Vivaldi flute concertos with Emmanuel Pahud and the ground-breaking 2000 collaboration with rock singer Peter Garrett and cartoonist/philosopher Michael Leunig resulting in the release of a recording of Camille Saint-Saëns' The Carnival of the Animals accompanying a book of Leunig's text and illustrations. He has also strongly supported Australian composers such as Peter Sculthorpe.
His recordings of all of Bach's works for violin, including the concerti with the ACO, the accompanied sonatas and the solo sonatas and partitas, won the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Fine Arts ARIA Award for Best Classical Album. Future recordings include a set of Mozart concertante violin works and the Dvořák Violin Concerto for the BIS label.
In 2007, the ACO received from an anonymous donor the 1743 "Carrodus" violin, made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. This instrument is claimed to be one of the finest in existence (although it had not been played for over 50 years at the time) and was bought for approximately $10 million. It is currently played by Tognetti in the ACO. It had been previously owned by Ossy Renardy (1920–1953), an Austrian prodigy who settled in America and in 1940, aged only 20, became the first violinist to make an integral recording of any version of the Paganini Caprices.
Tognetti previously played a 1759 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin, using a combination of raw gut and steel strings. The violin was purchased by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for its Fine Art collection and, since the arrival of the del Gesù instrument, is now played by the ACO's principal violin, Helena Rathbone. It has been lent to the ACO on a semi-permanent basis.
Tognetti was declared a National Living Treasure in 1999 and received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Sydney in 2005. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Wollongong and the University of Western Australia.
On Australia Day 2010, Tognetti was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, For service to music through leadership of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as an internationally acclaimed violinist, through the development and promotion of educational programs for children, support for emerging artists and contributions to charitable organisations.
In 2017, Tognetti received the JC Williamson Award, an Australian music industry award for live performance.
His former wife, Susie Roberts, is a clarinetist. They had a son, Leonardo, in 2002, and divorced in 2005. He is now married to Satu Vänskä, the assistant leader of the ACO.