Alex Ross ( would have been proud. The famous New Yorker music critic chastises those in the classical music world to drag ourselves into the 21st century.  I think he would’ve approved of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s recent concert where didgeridoo improvisations, Bach and heavy metal formed the sound track to a surf documentary.

(The review below is copyright the West Australian 2012.)


Australian Chamber Orchestra
Perth Concert Hall
July 2012

A review in London’s Financial Times once described the Australian Chamber Orchestra as having a ‘salty’ sound. But it took director of Tura New Music Tos Mahoney to dream up a surf project combining the ACO’s distinctive sound with footage from the West Australian coastline. The collaborative adventure put ACO concert master and director Richard Tognetti around a campfire at Ningaloo Reef with didgeridoo player Mark Atkins and guitarist Steve Pigram. They were joined by surfers, a photographer and musicians who had in common immense technical skills and a penchant for reckless experimentation.

Tognetti (renowned for his love or surfing) has produced previous surf films with classical music soundtracks but this time the result was a multi-media concert depicting a metaphorical ‘day’ with footage of finless surfers including Taylor Miller, Ryan Burch and Derek Hynde accompanied by genre-defying music samples.

Under Tognetti’s direction the young musicians of the orchestra’s elite training band ACO2 performed Rameau’s 18th century Les Vents (The Wind) which perfectly matched the images (by photographer Jon Frank) of sparkling wave spray and wind-blown dunes projected on a screen behind them. The cluster harmonies of Ligeti’s Ramifications gave an eerie edge to crusty desert footage littered with dead sheep and old machinery. Two ring-in surfers, barefoot and bearded, sang gutsy Alice In Chains. The orchestra, aided by box drum, thumped out the heavy metal accompaniment complete with electric violin solo by Tognetti and cellist Julian Thompson’s sampling technology on electric cello.

In complete contrast Beethoven’s Cavatina was played with devastating beauty as waves of spectacular power and purity rolled by. Pristine footage of surfers falling in slow motion, underwater reflections and crystalline bubbles were breathtaking.  The images gave nobility to Beethoven’s music; the music gave humanity to the waves.

The centrepiece was Immutable by Iain Grandage (who also arranged and linked the concert soundtrack) which skilfully blended Atkin’s didgeridoo improvisations with interjections from the orchestra.

It was a concert that was at once wild and completely controlled. I hope there are plans for a DVD because this thrilling experience had so many connection points as it celebrated the ancient and ever-new aspects of landscape and music.