One of the world’s most lauded chamber ensembles, the Australian Chamber Orchestra is renowned for its inspired programming and unrivalled virtuosity, energy and individuality. Its unique programming extends across six centuries, spanning popular masterworks, adventurous cross-artform projects and pieces specially commissioned for the ensemble.
Founded in 1975, this string orchestra comprises leading Australian and international musicians and a growing company of dedicated young players. The Orchestra performs as a symphony orchestra, chamber music ensemble and electro-acoustic collective collaborating with an extraordinary range of artists from numerous artistic disciplines including renowned soloists Emmanuel Pahud, Steven Isserlis, Martin Fröst and Joseph Tawadros; singers Katie Noonan, Paul Capsis, Dawn Upshaw and Teddy Tahu Rhodes; and such diverse artists as cinematographer Jon Frank, visual artist Shaun Tan, entertainer Barry Humphries, photographer Bill Henson, choreographer Rafael Bonachela and cartoonist Michael Leunig.
Outstanding Australian violinist Richard Tognetti, who has been at the helm of the ACO since 1989, has expanded the Orchestra’s national program, spearheaded vast and regular international tours, injected unprecedented creativity and unique artistic style into the programming and transformed the group into the energetic standing ensemble (except for the cellists) for which it is now internationally recognised. Through the ACO’s extensive commissioning program, more than 60 chamber music works have been added to the repertoire, including pieces by Brett Dean, Jonny Greenwood and Carl Vine. Committed to Australian composition, the ACO has given 1700 performances of over 250 works by 80 Australian composers.
Several of the ACO’s players perform on remarkable string instruments. Tognetti plays the legendary 1743 Carrodus Guarneri del Gesù violin, on loan from an anonymous Australian benefactor; Principal Violin Helena Rathbone plays a 1759 Guadagnini violin owned by the Commonwealth Bank; Principal Violin Satu Vänskä plays a 1728/9 Stradivarius violin owned by the ACO Instrument Fund and Principal Cello Timo-Veikko Valve plays a 1729 Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andreæ cello on loan from Peter Weiss AO.
The ACO has made many award-winning recordings and has a current recording contract with leading classical music label BIS. Highlights include four-time Grammy Award winning recording Winter Morning Walks with soprano Dawn Upshaw, Tognetti’s three-time ARIA Award-winning Bach recordings, multi-award-winning documentary film Musica Surfica, the sound-track for television series Classical Destinations II and the complete set of Mozart Violin Concertos. A full list of ACO recordings can be found here.
As Australia’s only national orchestra the ACO presents outstanding performances to over 10,000 subscribers across Australia, reaching regional audiences in every state and territory. The Orchestra curate, host and perform two weekend-long chamber music festivals annually at wineries in Victoria and Western Australia, the TarraWarra Chamber Music Festival and Vasse Felix Chamber Music Festival respectively. Internationally, the ACO’s regular tours to Asia, Europe and the USA consistently receive hyperbolic reviews and return invitations to perform on the great music stages of the world including Vienna’s Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall and Southbank Centre and New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. The ACO has visited over 250 cities in the course of 50 international tours.
In 2005 the ACO inaugurated a national education program including a mentoring program for Australia’s best young string players. These specially selected stars of the future join ACO core players to form the Orchestra’s little sister orchestra ACO2, performing bold programs in concerts and education workshops for regional audiences throughout Australia. In 2013, ACO2 performed on Australia’s major concert hall stages with celebrated German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott under the direction of Richard Tognetti.