Richard Tognetti with his six-string Violectra. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
The combination of the talent of Richard Tognetti, Brett Dean and the Australian Chamber Orchestra has thrilled audiences at many performances. And when Tognetti plays Dean's specially commissioned work, Electric Preludes, using a six-string Violectra violin, at the first concert of the ACO's 2013 tour, a real current of excitement will fill the hall.
As an internationally acclaimed musician - violist, composer, conductor and teacher - Dean has music constantly running through his mind. ''That's the way I like it,'' he says. ''It's how I make sense of the world, I suppose.'' The Tognetti/Dean friendship is an enduring one of many years. ''I first met Richard when we were both teenagers,'' Dean says, ''but I have to say that the relationship with the ACO in the time that he's been at the helm has been a significant one for me in as far as my compositions go. It's had a lot to do with me taking composition seriously. It also encouraged me to return to Australia after about 14 years away - and I've never regretted that.''
Dean now divides his year between Berlin and Melbourne. ''Two homes, I guess,'' he says. ''Certainly Berlin is one of the great music capitals of the world: classical music, experimental free jazz … It's a quite wonderful environment for a musician. But when I'm back in Melbourne I'm always astonished at how much is going on there. I don't really think about which is better. You can only be in one place at a time and you take on whatever that place offers you at that time.'' Dean describes his musical preferences as very broad. ''I've just spent a week in Leipzig immersed in the world of St Thomas's Choir,''he says. ''I wrote them a piece for Christmas and just immersing myself in that tradition was incredible … to hear the choir singing Bach! … having a discussion after the performance next to Bach's grave! He's a figure that looms large in any musician's life.''
For Dean, 2010 saw the premiere of his opera, Bliss, by Opera Australia and he's now in the planning stages of another opera with an international company but can't yet reveal details. Then there's his much-praised Viola Concerto written in 2004 - ''part of my travel pack - it's very dear to me and I'll be doing it next at the Grafenegg Music Festival in Austria in August.'' His work, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, for violin and orchestra won the 2009 Grawemeyer Award and an earlier work, Ariel's Music, a clarinet concerto, won an award from the UNESCO Rostrum of Composers. A musical Renaissance man, you might say.
Dean will conduct Electric Preludes but won't play. ''It was Richard's request that I conduct simply because it helps to direct operations because there's just so much for him to think about,'' he says. ''The piece is a complicated sound world. To be honest, the next most important person after Richard is Bob Scott, who's operating the electronics out in the hall. That's quite a virtuosic part as well. He has to follow very closely what Richard is playing and react promptly. What's more, before each performance Bob has to try to calibrate the effect of the different acoustic of every different venue. He has a very important part to play and he was very much involved in the genesis of the piece itself. We've had several three-way sessions with Richard, Bob and myself coming to terms with what kind of sound we wanted to explore. Then Bob had to work out how those sounds could all be available all at once in a 20-minute piece.
''The piece is six shortish movements which form a suite that kind of works in two halves: the first three movements sort of flow into one another and then the second three similarly.'' The virtuosic electric violin solo part contrasts with the sound of the orchestra's acoustic instruments.
''The piece runs the gamut from haunted beauty to fraught, driven and jarring tones,'' Tognetti says. ''The character changes from one movement to another like dreams can on a stormy night in the Outer Hebrides or King Island, Tasmania. The effects range from hallucinogenic and ethereal to dry, scratchy and threatening.''
''In many ways, it's not really a concerto with a solo violin,'' Dean says. ''There are moments when it's the sound factor that has the virtuosic capabilities but it acknowledges and pays homage to Richard not only as a wonderful fiddle player but also as someone who is constantly exploring new sounds and avenues of expression. It's so much his piece and I dedicate it to him as a musician.'' The work had its world premiere at last year's Maribor Festival in Slovenia.
In the eclectic Tognetti style, this concert program mixes the new and intriguing with some of the most beautiful works of the classical repertoire. Tognetti will play his favourite Mozart concerto, Violin Concert No 3 and, for the first time in 20 years, the orchestra will perform the music that became known to everyone from the opening scenes of Milos Forman's film Amadeus, the haunting Mozart Symphony No. 25.
The concert will begin with Haydn's Symphony No. 49, La passione. Haydn was not responsible for this nickname, which many thought described the music itself but later research suggests that the symphony had a theatrical provenance.
Tognetti's Mozart at Llewellyn Hall, 8pm, Saturday, February 2
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