Richard Tognetti, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director, grew up in the beachside city of Wollongong. He now lives in Manly with his wife, Satu Vänskä, who is the principal violinist and leader of ACO Underground, the orchestra’s experimental spin-off band. When he’s not leading the ACO, he likes to make the most of Sydney’s independent music venues in Marrickville, or savour Neil Perry’s cooking at the chef’s latest venture in Double Bay. This month he’s taking an exploration through American classical music of the last 150 years, from 20th-century pioneers Florence Price and Morton Feldman to modern-day greats including John Adams and the National’s Bryce Dessner. The American is on now until November 23.

Read on for Richard Tognetti’s My Sydney.

Fave Sydney restaurant: Neil Perry’s Margaret is a return to his independent form, and Ho Jiak is a constant favourite.

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Ideal day in Sydney: My ideal day is spent in the surf followed by a barbeque on the beach with my wife Satu, my son Leonardo and a few friends.

Stores to shop: Desire Books & Records in Manly. It’s got a fantastic, eclectic collection. You never know what you’re going to come across. My most recent purchase there was an early Moog synthesiser record.

Most underrated place: Walsh Bay. Getting to call Pier 2/3 our home still hasn’t sunk in. It’s the most extraordinary cultural building in the most extraordinary location. We’re surrounded by neighbours – Bangarra, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company and Bell Shakespeare – and we’re just the guardians. It’s a public space, completely open to all.

The thing that makes Sydney a better place: The independent music venues in Marrickville – like Lazybones Lounge, Gasoline Pony and the Great Club – they’re a great way to experience Sydney’s live music scene, from jazz to punk. A city can’t rely solely on food and footy alone; it’s the locally run music and arts venues that make a city a vibrant one.

Essential Sydney song: Saturday Night by Cold Chisel. I love this song, and the film clip is brilliant. The depiction of Kings Cross in the mid-’80s is spot on. The ACO’s first home during my formative years as director was this studio above a shop in King Cross. It was opposite Porky’s, this seedy strip club, and we were surrounded by criminal establishments and all the Kellett Street cafes. This song captures that time perfectly.

The thing I love most about Sydney: The harbour is mind-blowing every time I find the time to explore it, from North Head through to all the little inlets and tributaries that go up to the Hawkesbury. I love that you can spend your morning surfing in Manly before jumping on a ferry to head into a concert at the Sydney Opera House. That’s an experience unique to Sydney.

My Sydney” is a regular column discovering the places and spaces that captivate and entice Sydney’s well-known residents.