An Interview with Richard Tognetti of the Australian Chamber Orchestra

A quick chat with Artistic Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Niseko-lover, Richard Tognetti.

It all began between the concrete walls of an old building in Kutchan Town, circa 2008. Richard Tognetti, together with members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, played their first concert in the Niseko area. And over 10 years later, they are back again.

Tognetti, the world-renowned violinist and Artistic Director of the ACO, has been returning to Niseko over the past decade to play the Niseko Music Festival each January. This year marks the fourth consecutive concert.

"To me, music is oxygen to blood."

ACO Richard Tognetti

First playing violin at age five, Tognetti has lead the ACO for over 25 years.

Having first visited Niseko in 2006 for a ski trip with his wife Satu Vanska, who also plays in the ACO ensemble in Niseko, Tognetti says it was a time when Strawberry Fields was still a "secret spot".

Vanska, having been born in Japan to Finnish parents, there was a natural connection to Niseko and Japan.

"A lot of us grew up playing the suzuki method [famed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki], where you get kids three-to-five years old, and you give them an instrument and they don't learn to read music at first, they just learn by ear. It's a very successful and very interesting way of learning to play music," Tognetti explains.

 "There was a connection to Japan. I always loved coming here and so when we came we saw how beautiful it is. We kept on coming back. Even though my heart was in Europe, we kept coming back here."

Aco 2019 Lr 30

Vanska singing with Tognetti on violin at the 2019 Niseko Music Festival.

Niseko's food culture is something that also keeps Tognetti hooked, with some of his favourites including Kamimura and Bang Bang (with the owners of both, Yuichi Kamimura and Matsunobu Saito friends of Tognetti).

"The food is extraordinary here. Some of the best food compared to anywhere else we know," Tognetti explains.

Tognetti's future vision for Niseko is a destination with a developed, world-class arts and culture scene; one to rival other destinations around the globe.

"It's important people respect culture and people should be given the opportunity to express themselves in a cultural way," Tognetti says. "There aren't many winter festivals at ski resorts, but what makes it [a festival concept in Niseko] spectacular is the fact it's at sea level."

Bang Bang

Friends of Tognetti and owners of popular restaurant, Bang Bang, Matsunobu and wife Toshiko Saito.

Support and funding has proven to be the most difficult, something he hopes will change into the future. A week-long Niseko Music Festival is his ultimate dream.

"We haven't been able to get the right push. Five days of activities that lifts Niseko culturally, with a lot of Japanese artists and make it international. Niseko needs it."

Aside from their 2019 concert in Niseko, Tognetti and his wife will be enjoying some off-time on Niseko's slopes until the end of January.

Want to know more? Check out our wrap-up from the 2019 Niseko Music Festival.