Earlier this year, Richard Tognetti picked up the phone and called Will Gregory in the UK. The artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) had been intrigued to learn that the founding member of English electronica duo Goldfrapp also led a Moog ensemble – and Tognetti had an idea he wanted to discuss with him. (For the uninitiated a Moog is a modular synthesiser developed by the American engineer Robert Moog.)
“We immediately hit it off,” Tognetti tells Broadsheet. “Will comes from this uber curious British contemporary music thing – they’re not just head down making hit singles, but exploring really interesting sounds, like Goldfrapp has.”
Tognetti’s idea was sparked during a pandemic binge session watching old British psychological-horror films with his wife and ACO principal violinist Satu Vänskä. The pair had been watching the 1972 film Images and were stunned to find not only was it directed by subversive satirist Robert Altman – better known for MASH and Gosford Park than psychological horror – but also that the Academy Award-nominated score was by John Williams with Japanese experimental musician Stomu Yamash’ta.
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“The music is really avant-garde, and I was flabbergasted. As amazing as he is, I was amazed that the sugary John Williams was not in evidence here, it shows the vastness of his capabilities,” Tognetti says of Williams, the multiple Oscar-winning composer famous for soundtracking everything from Star Wars to Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and ET. “I wondered if there were other scores out there by him, and [if] we could put on a John Williams night, but not the sugary-themed ET John Williams.”
That led Tognetti down a film-score rabbit hole, searching for quality and innovation, music that shared a thread of synthetic and otherworldly instruments, which is where Gregory came in. Why not invite Gregory – the master of intriguing, synthesised sounds – and his Will Gregory Moog Ensemble to collaborate with the ACO on a series of film soundtracks that explore similar genre-bending music?
The result is A Clockwork Orange and Beyond, a program that celebrates the groundbreaking music of 20th-century film composers. The line-up includes Images composer Wendy Carlos and her audacious, mind-bending score for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Delia Derbyshire’s eerie, unforgettable sci-fi sounds in Australian composer Ron Grainer’s theme song for Doctor Who.
“I’m pretty sure it was the first time a synthesiser was used in a TV theme,” says Tognetti. “And to use an over-used word, it was an iconic theme at that.”
Also on the bill are scores by the late Greek electronic musician Vangelis for Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir film Blade Runner, and the Oscar-winning 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.
“Vangelis has this instrument, [the Yamaha CS-80 synthesiser] and those two scores from his synthesised world are some of the most important sounds of the 20th century,” says Tognetti.
A Clockwork Orange and Beyond is part of the ACO’s just-released 2023 season. Comprising seven national tours and two international tours to North America, Canada, Japan, the UK and Europe, the season celebrates female composers and performers. Alongside the music of Carlos and Derbyshire is Russian pianist Polina Leschenko performing alongside Tognetti in Chopin & the Mendelssohns; the music of American composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw, who is the youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music; and new work by Australian Holly Harrison.
“The ACO [has always tended to] have more females than men, but when it comes to composition, history has it as a men’s club. Is it that women can’t compose? Don’t give me that, of course they can,” scoffs Tognetti.
From March, the ACO will perform Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – but not as you know it. Tognetti has invited Egyptian-Australian brothers and musicians Joseph and James Tawadros to perform on stage with the ACO, playing the oud and riq respectively, with Egyptian-inspired music interspersed with Vivaldi’s cherished score.
“Vivaldi’s Venice wouldn’t have just had the strains of baroque music but the smells and spices of the Middle East and North Africa, it was a real melting pot, so that’s how the program is informed,” says Tognetti. “I adore playing with Joseph and people adore listening to him, he’s a compelling virtuoso and a larger-than-life character.”
Beyond that, the ACO will celebrate three of Mozart’s symphonies in a collaboration with students from the Australian National Academy of Music. There’s also the folk-inspired music of Dvořák and Bartók in Bohemian Serenades, while the popular boundary-pushing program ACO Underground – which has seen previous collaborations with Violent Femmes’s Brian Ritchie and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood – will return with Robbie Williams’s music director and keyboardist Paul Beard and violinist Charlie Westhoff.