Internationally renowned for inspired programming and the rapturous response of audiences and critics, the Australian Chamber Orchestra is a product of our country’s vibrant, adventurous and enquiring spirit. In performances around Australia, around the world and on many recordings, the ACO moves hearts and stimulates minds with repertoire spanning six centuries and a vitality and virtuosity unmatched by other ensembles.
The ACO was founded in 1975. Every year, this ensemble presents performances of the highest standard to audiences around the world, including 10,000 subscribers across Australia. The ACO’s unique artistic style encompasses not only the masterworks of the classical repertoire, but innovative cross-artform projects and a vigorous commissioning program.
The outstanding Australian musician Richard Tognetti was appointed as Artistic Director and Lead Violin in 1989. Under his inspiring leadership, the ACO has performed as a flexible and versatile ‘ensemble of soloists’, on modern and period instruments, as a small chamber group, a small symphony orchestra, and as an electro-acoustic collective. In a nod to past traditions, only the cellists are seated – the resulting sense of energy and individuality is one of the most commented-upon elements of an ACO concert experience.
Regular international tours to Asia, Europe and the USA have drawn outstanding reviews for the ACO’s performances at many of the world’s prestigious concert halls, including Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Vienna’s Musikverein, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Recent festival appearances include the BBC Proms, Tanglewood, Ravinia, Interlochen and New York’s Mostly Mozart. The Australian Government recognises the ACO’s achievements by designating it as an international flagship arts company. The ACO has performed in 355 cities around the world.
The ACO’s dedication and musicianship has created warm relationships with such celebrated soloists as Emmanuel Pahud, Steven Isserlis, Dawn Upshaw, Imogen Cooper, Christian Lindberg, Joseph Tawadros, Melvyn Tan and Pieter Wispelwey. The ACO is renowned for collaborating with artists from diverse genres, including singers Tim Freedman, Neil Finn, Katie Noonan, Paul Capsis, Danny Spooner and Barry Humphries and visual artists Michael Leunig, Bill Henson, Shaun Tan and Jon Frank. Committed to Australian composition, the ACO has given 1700 performances of over 250 works by 80 Australian composers.
Several of the ACO’s principal musicians perform with spectacularly fine instruments. Tognetti performs on a priceless 1743 Guarneri del Gesù, made available exclusively to him by an anonymous Australian benefactor. Principal cello Timo-Veikko Valve plays on a 1729 Giuseppe Guarneri Filius Andreae cello, also made available by an anonymous benefactor, and Principal Second Violin Helena Rathbone plays a 1759 J.B. Guadagnini violin on loan from the Commonwealth Bank Group.
The ACO has made many acclaimed recordings, for labels including BIS, ABC Classics, Sony, Channel Classics, Hyperion, EMI, Chandos and Orfeo. In 2005 the Orchestra collaborated with pianist Angela Hewitt on the final instalment of her 10-year project to record all of Bach’s keyboard music. This double-CD set for Hyperion was ‘CD of the Month’ for Gramophone magazine. Similar critical praise was lavished on the ACO’s recording with Emmanuel Pahud of Vivaldi’s flute concertos for EMI. Richard Tognetti and the ACO recorded Bach’s violin concertos for ABC Classics (2006), winning one of three consecutive ARIA Awards for Richard Tognetti's Bach recordings. The ACO is featured in the documentary Musical Renegades, the Classical Destinations II television series screened internationally in 2008-9 and Musica Surfica, which has won awards at film festivals in Europe and America in 2008-9. In 2009, ABC Classics released a 2CD compilation celebrating Richard Tognetti's 20th anniversary with the ACO. The ACO currently records for the prestigious European label BIS.
In 2005, the ACO inaugurated an ambitious national education program, which includes outreach activities and mentoring of outstanding young musicians, including the formation of ACO2, an elite training orchestra which tours regional centres.