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Antonio Meneses Mantuan maker

THE STRAD march 2017

Bow matters: find your perfect sound Life Lessons Pietro Guarneri
since 1890

March 2017 vol.128 no.1523 thestrad.com

‘My style of
orchestra
attracts a
different kind
of buzz’

RICHARD
TOGNETTI THE INTREPID VIOLINIST ON NEW MUSIC, NEW CONTEXTS AND HIS
Vol.128 No.1523

CAREER AT THE HELM OF THE AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA


RICHARD TOGNETTI RICHARD TOGNETTI

Three decades as artistic director of the Australian Chamber


Orchestra have taught Richard Tognetti that necessity is
the mother of invention, and invention is essential to the
health of classical music. Chloe Cutts meets the Antipodean
violinist in Sydney to talk commissions, modern string
playing and the survival of contemporary repertoire
R ichard Tognetti is musing on the
pressures of being a creative with too
many influences. You can see his
dilemma: the Australian violinist has
spent most of his three-decade career
at the helm of one of the world’s most artistically
diverse and consistently surprising string ensembles,
the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), a role
that has afforded – indeed necessitated – an
difficult on the one hand and so liberating on the
other, because you’ve got to devise your own
repertoire. I’m a multi-stylist, and I sometimes find
myself over-burdened by the multitude of
possibilities.’ The off-track programming,
commissioning projects and cross-art collaborations
that have become the ensemble’s hallmarks are
rooted in a vision shared by Tognetti and the
handful of players who stayed on during those early
explorer’s thirst for discovery. He was appointed years. ‘It was a totally different orchestra back then,
artistic director and leader in 1989, taking over with barely a board of directors and nowhere to
founder John Painter’s ensemble from Carl Pini rehearse,’ he remembers. ‘We were a motley crew –
when the orchestra was in its early teens and a lot of people had left and the organisation was in
Tognetti in his early twenties. After rebuilding the disarray, which is often the best way because if you
ensemble virtually from scratch, the violinist and his enter when it’s strong, what do you do? I ended up
band of players set about revisiting the body of with a few like-minded characters who wanted to
works written for string orchestra – ‘which we got pursue my goals. I didn’t come in with a nuclear
through within the first five years’, he laughs. bomb, but I certainly intended to change things.’
‘There are very few pieces written for string We are situated in the high-ceilinged reception
orchestra,’ he explains, ‘and that’s what makes it so room of the house – a former Masonic hall – that

adventures
in repertoire

simon van boxtel


28 the strad march 2017 www.thestrad.com www.thestrad.com march 2017 the strad 29
RICHARD TOGNETTI RICHARD TOGNETTI

Three decades as artistic director of the Australian Chamber


Orchestra have taught Richard Tognetti that necessity is
the mother of invention, and invention is essential to the
health of classical music. Chloe Cutts meets the Antipodean
violinist in Sydney to talk commissions, modern string
playing and the survival of contemporary repertoire
R ichard Tognetti is musing on the
pressures of being a creative with too
many influences. You can see his
dilemma: the Australian violinist has
spent most of his three-decade career
at the helm of one of the world’s most artistically
diverse and consistently surprising string ensembles,
the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), a role
that has afforded – indeed necessitated – an
difficult on the one hand and so liberating on the
other, because you’ve got to devise your own
repertoire. I’m a multi-stylist, and I sometimes find
myself over-burdened by the multitude of
possibilities.’ The off-track programming,
commissioning projects and cross-art collaborations
that have become the ensemble’s hallmarks are
rooted in a vision shared by Tognetti and the
handful of players who stayed on during those early
explorer’s thirst for discovery. He was appointed years. ‘It was a totally different orchestra back then,
artistic director and leader in 1989, taking over with barely a board of directors and nowhere to
founder John Painter’s ensemble from Carl Pini rehearse,’ he remembers. ‘We were a motley crew –
when the orchestra was in its early teens and a lot of people had left and the organisation was in
Tognetti in his early twenties. After rebuilding the disarray, which is often the best way because if you
ensemble virtually from scratch, the violinist and his enter when it’s strong, what do you do? I ended up
band of players set about revisiting the body of with a few like-minded characters who wanted to
works written for string orchestra – ‘which we got pursue my goals. I didn’t come in with a nuclear
through within the first five years’, he laughs. bomb, but I certainly intended to change things.’
‘There are very few pieces written for string We are situated in the high-ceilinged reception
orchestra,’ he explains, ‘and that’s what makes it so room of the house – a former Masonic hall – that

adventures
in repertoire

simon van boxtel


28 the strad march 2017 www.thestrad.com www.thestrad.com march 2017 the strad 29
RICHARD TOGNETTI

Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata transformed. Tognetti regards his


transcription of the latter, and of Janáček’s String Quartet no.1
‘Kreutzer Sonata’, as highlights among the some 150 adaptations
he has undertaken. ‘I thought that if I shone a different light on
these works they would become vaster, wilder, even possibly
better,’ he says. ‘That’s a grand statement to make about works by
such geniuses.’
Tognetti concedes that the art of arranging, by its very nature,
RICHARD TOGNETTI’S
INSTRUMENT
often involves a certain leap-of-faith audacity. ‘My version of the
‘Blues’ second movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata no.2 is my own The ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin of 1743
bold and possibly impertinent imagining of what he would have has been described as ‘one of the four or five finest
done with this work if he’d added wind, brass and percussion of the finest’ violins in the world, by the respected
components to the strings,’ he says. With other works, such as the London dealer Charles Beare. It is named after
Beethoven quartets, Tognetti applies a lighter hand – involving British violinist John Tiplady Carrodus (1836–95),
the group as a whole and mainly adding double bass – and the leader of the Royal Opera House orchestra from
symphonic proportions and colours that emerge from this 1869. Other previous owners include Austrian–
massed strings setting can be heard on the ACO’s live recording American violinist Ossy Renardy (1920–53),
of the opp.130 and 131. who made the world premiere recording of any
‘The historical context of the ACO is interesting,’ says version of the 24 Paganini Caprices. He gave
Tognetti. ‘The string orchestra is now widely accepted within almost 500 concerts for the US troops in World
the classical music world, but it was only really born in the 20th War II. The violin was also once owned by French
century. There are certain string concertos by Bach, and Rossini maker and dealer Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. ‘It
wrote several string symphonies, but these were probably for is claimed to be the sister violin to Paganini’s
single strings, not string orchestra. It’s the same story with “Cannon” “del Gesù”, and indeed was previously
Eine kleine Nachtmusik. So the first real works written for an named the “Cannon Joseph”, says Tognetti.
orchestral-size string section came at the end of the 19th century In 2006 the ACO received the “Carrodus” violin
and the early 20th: the string serenades by Tchaikovsky and from an anonymous Australian donor. ‘Prior to
Dvořák, and the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and that, I had been playing a 1759 Guadagnini for
Bartók’s Divertimento. ten years. They are very similar in character;
Even when the 20th century got under way, mass string the “del Gesù” is just much bigger, bolder
writing was slow to evolve. ‘There is nothing – nothing – written and stronger. While it’s tempting to go
by the great Impressionists: Ravel, Dvořák and Szymanowski. for the diamond-cutter sound of a Strad,
You would have thought the string orchestra would have been a I tend to be drawn to a darker sound.’ He uses
great vehicle for them, but no. So instead you have to go to the both steel and gut strings: ‘All violins love gut; it’s
string quartet repertoire: Janáček, middle to late Beethoven. After just the weather that doesn’t always behave.
that, you Poms can take the credit for creating the grand string ‘The ACO has one of the best collections of
orchestra repertoire: Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Michael instruments of any chamber orchestra in the
Tippett. Elsewhere, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, originally world, thanks to the people who acquired the
conceived for string quartet; and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, “Carrodus” for us, and in so doing inspired
originally for string sextet. So all things considered we’ve been others,’ he goes on. In 2011 the ACO
forced to be original, and to be inventive.’ Instrument Fund acquired Australia’s
first Stradivari violin – now played by

N
ot a bad state of affairs for a musician who cites as his first violinist Satu Vänskä; the fund’s
key influences those who inspired him to be just that. most recent acquisition is a 1714
‘Your heroes are those you can identify with, who violin by Giuseppe Guarneri “filius
liberate you because they are playing in a way that emboldens Andreae”, in 2013. The Guadagnini
you,’ he says. Among them, William Primrose, a mentor when formerly played by Tognetti is now
he was growing up in Wollongong, New South Wales, ‘who had played by ACO principal violin Helena
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

an extraordinarily profound impact on me,’ he ways. ‘He wasn’t Rathbone. Decisions about the purchase
really a teacher; rather he was a portal to the world of Heifetz, of other instruments for the ACO are
Piatigorsky, Menuhin et al. From Wollongong they sounded made through ‘rigorous testing,
as distant as men on the moon, but he opened my ears and in three concert halls including
mind to a lost world of expressive string playing.’ At Sydney the Sydney Opera House, with
Conservatorium High School, Alice Waten instilled in at least three people listening’,
Tognetti a solid grounding in the Russian technique; and says Tognetti. ‘This is carried
at the Bern Conservatory he was taught by Igor Ozim, out “blind”, so if the big-name
‘who came from the Russian school but devised his own instrument doesn’t win, we
methods, and encouraged me to explore the emerging world choose the contemporary one.’
of the early music “heretics”.’
www.thestrad.com MARCH 2017 THE STRAD 31
RICHARD TOGNETTI

Richard Tognetti directs the Australian Chamber


Orchestra in Beethoven at Sydney Opera House, 2016

The avant-garde ideas put forward by these ‘heretics’ of the simply getting from one note to the next, but those characters,
early music revival had a profound effect on Tognetti in his teens with all their imperfections, coupled with the early music world:
and twenties, and went on to inform his interpretations of those are the explosive factors that have made me who I am.’
Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concerti grossi. He was

O
among the first in the generation of ‘hybrid’ players – Dutch ne of Tognetti’s most personal projects to date is The Reef,
cellist Pieter Wispelwey being another example – to play in the which forms the pinnacle of his Barbican residency in
modern style and also embrace early music. ‘We were a March and exemplifies the sort of new context he has
generation on from Christopher Hogwood and Nikolaus spoken about. Filmed over two weeks at the Ningaloo Reef,
Harnoncourt, and so we had the early music movement pushing Western Australia, the film celebrates the violinist’s love of surfing,
on the one hand, and still-extant practices on the other,’ he the ocean and the Australian landscape with a typically eclectic
explains. ‘Hogwood, my earliest influence in this area, was into programme of live music traversing heavy metal, George Crumb
removing the patina of “bad habits”, and a lot of people wanted and Rameau among others. Later this year sees the premiere of
to cleanse their interpretations by basing them on the original Mountain, a film made by Sherpa director Jennifer Peedom with
manuscripts. But Harnoncourt drew totally different answers live music from the ACO – a similarly diverse set spanning
from the same texts as Hogwood, like two people reading the Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto to
Bible and getting Catholicism and Protestantism. I realised those Tognetti’s own compositions and Sculthorpe’s Djilile – based on
so-called bad habits were simply habits, and habits create history.’ an adaptation of an Aboriginal melody.
The violinist identifies cellist Anner Bylsma as the musician ‘This kind of thing has really made the ACO,’ says Tognetti.
‘who brought an idiosyncratic style to early music that was very ‘These geographically unique presentations with film and live
personal and which I identified with enormously’. It is precisely music are new territory, and are still really provocative.’ They also
this kind of individuality that Tognetti fears is becoming lost in represent the sort of curatorial approach he has been advocating,
modern-day string playing. Among the biggest victims, he says, and which the chamber orchestra format is so adept at achieving.
are portamento and rubato. ‘Portamento is fundamentally the ‘If the ACO hadn’t existed I would have tried to find something
most important thing in violin playing, and tragically it is else,’ he reflects. ‘We are Australia’s only national orchestra, and the
becoming lost. I think about it all the time, and about my “orchestra will travel” element is intrinsic to the Australianness. We
training and where it has been lost. It is fundamental to the continue to thrive because we’re not monoliths, juggernauts; we’re
PAUL HENDERSON-KELLY

internal narrative, and yet you’re not even really taught how to not entities within the big orchestras. A lot of chamber orchestras
render it. I hear people going from A to B, but with a kind of have been formed by “refugees” from big orchestras, desperate for a
glissando. But what I hear from Ivry Gitlis, Kreisler, Heifetz and better life – players who want to be in charge of their own destinies.
especially Menuhin and Elman is another world. Portamento is That’s why my style of orchestra attracts a different kind of buzz.’
32 THE STRAD MARCH 2017 www.thestrad.com
my space
Lutherie
my space
A peek into lutherie workshops around the world

Right My tools are like my


children: there’s not a single
Lights are among my most important tools. When I’m These 42 boxes are useful for
one I love more than the
finishing the arching, it’s vital that the complete surface storing smaller tools and self-made others. Whenever I work at
be visualised, with shadows and angles, from all sides. jigs that are less practical to have home and realise that I’ve left a
tool I need at the workshop,
This is only possible with good adjustable lamps. hanging in front of the bench. life becomes miserable.

luthier

borja Bernabeu
location
Cremona, Italy

I
’ve been based in Cremona for almost 20 years;
I came for a visit and just stayed on. I began my
career as a guitar maker, and came to Italy because
my partner is Italian. When I arrived in Cremona
I realised that there was something special about making
violins, so I trained for three years at the International
Violin Making School, and served an apprenticeship.
It took a long time for me to find this shop in Cremona.
I wanted a space close to the centre but in a very quiet
street, so I could concentrate on my work. I found it in
2005 and it took a year to set it up.
With more than 150 luthiers in this city there’s a
certain amount of competition, but it’s easy to adjust
to that. When a customer comes from out of town, you
accept it as inevitable that they’ll visit other luthiers
while in town, just to browse; whereas my violin making
friends in other Italian cities tell me that their customers
are more likely to shop around seriously when there are
just a few luthiers in town. Cremona is a city where
there are a lot of opportunities for comparison, which
I see as an opportunity for constant professional growth.
I think that the work of my contemporaries is just as
much of an influence on my work as that of the classical
Italian makers.
This workshop is to the west of the city centre, and
the room in the picture takes up 35 sq m. There’s a large
window behind the camera, which lets in all the natural
light I need. The paintings above my main workbench
were made by my mother, an artist in Madrid. Although
I come from quite an artistic family background, I still
consider myself to be a craftsman. Violin makers are
All photos Borja Bernabeu

creative in the sense that they create something – but I made these supports for each of my benches. I put a mat down on my workbench for any stages This cello is based on a small French instrument with
the main focus of my work is always the musician and I use this bench for the finer details, while of the work where I don’t want the instrument to be odd measurements. I am reproducing its key features for
helping to bring out their talent. The job of the violin the other one is raised slightly higher, so that damaged. I do my varnishing in a different place to avoid playability and comfortable ergonomics, using a short
maker is to respond to the player’s needs and build I can stand while doing roughing-out work. dust and breathing the fumes of the varnish solvents. B-form model for a bigger, deeper, more powerful sound.
something that they can play beautifully.
Interview By Christian Lloyd

64 the strad march 2017 www.thestrad.com www.thestrad.com march 2017 the strad 65
my space
Lutherie
my space
A peek into lutherie workshops around the world

Right My tools are like my


children: there’s not a single
Lights are among my most important tools. When I’m These 42 boxes are useful for
one I love more than the
finishing the arching, it’s vital that the complete surface storing smaller tools and self-made others. Whenever I work at
be visualised, with shadows and angles, from all sides. jigs that are less practical to have home and realise that I’ve left a
tool I need at the workshop,
This is only possible with good adjustable lamps. hanging in front of the bench. life becomes miserable.

luthier

borja Bernabeu
location
Cremona, Italy

I
’ve been based in Cremona for almost 20 years;
I came for a visit and just stayed on. I began my
career as a guitar maker, and came to Italy because
my partner is Italian. When I arrived in Cremona
I realised that there was something special about making
violins, so I trained for three years at the International
Violin Making School, and served an apprenticeship.
It took a long time for me to find this shop in Cremona.
I wanted a space close to the centre but in a very quiet
street, so I could concentrate on my work. I found it in
2005 and it took a year to set it up.
With more than 150 luthiers in this city there’s a
certain amount of competition, but it’s easy to adjust
to that. When a customer comes from out of town, you
accept it as inevitable that they’ll visit other luthiers
while in town, just to browse; whereas my violin making
friends in other Italian cities tell me that their customers
are more likely to shop around seriously when there are
just a few luthiers in town. Cremona is a city where
there are a lot of opportunities for comparison, which
I see as an opportunity for constant professional growth.
I think that the work of my contemporaries is just as
much of an influence on my work as that of the classical
Italian makers.
This workshop is to the west of the city centre, and
the room in the picture takes up 35 sq m. There’s a large
window behind the camera, which lets in all the natural
light I need. The paintings above my main workbench
were made by my mother, an artist in Madrid. Although
I come from quite an artistic family background, I still
consider myself to be a craftsman. Violin makers are
All photos Borja Bernabeu

creative in the sense that they create something – but I made these supports for each of my benches. I put a mat down on my workbench for any stages This cello is based on a small French instrument with
the main focus of my work is always the musician and I use this bench for the finer details, while of the work where I don’t want the instrument to be odd measurements. I am reproducing its key features for
helping to bring out their talent. The job of the violin the other one is raised slightly higher, so that damaged. I do my varnishing in a different place to avoid playability and comfortable ergonomics, using a short
maker is to respond to the player’s needs and build I can stand while doing roughing-out work. dust and breathing the fumes of the varnish solvents. B-form model for a bigger, deeper, more powerful sound.
something that they can play beautifully.
Interview By Christian Lloyd

64 the strad march 2017 www.thestrad.com www.thestrad.com march 2017 the strad 65