Satu Vän­skä and Richard Tognetti share a pas­sion for music, and each other.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Jane Al­bert. Styled by Philippa Moroney. Pho­tographed by Hugh Ste­wart.

The ACO’s Satu Vän­skä and Richard Tognetti share a pas­sion for music, and each other.


They are the con­sum­mate poster cou­ple: he is the at­trac­tive, fiendishly tal­ented vi­o­lin­ist and long-time leader of the Aus­tralian Cham­ber Orches­tra (ACO), the boy from the beaches who out­grew his wun­derkind la­bel to set­tle into undis­puted ex­cel­lence. She is the cap­ti­vat­ing Fin­nish vi­o­lin­ist, also en­vi­ably ac­com­plished with a voice that could melt the hard­est of hearts. To­gether they live in mar­i­tal bliss on Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches, per­form to­gether in Aus­tralia’s best con­cert halls and reg­u­larly tour with the orches­tra to play pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional stages.

But there is one role Satu Vän­skä will never in­vite Richard Tognetti to take on: surf­ing teacher. “When I came here I wanted to do some­thing uniquely Aus­tralian, so I learnt surf­ing,” Vän­skä re­calls. “I didn’t know the ocean at all, so it was a fas­ci­nat­ing way to get to know a coun­try.” But if Tognetti thought he would be the learned teacher, shar­ing his own surf­ing prow­ess, he was wrong. “You know that thing – never teach your part­ner to ski? Well, it also re­lates to surf­ing,” Tognetti says rue­fully. “She was in­tro­duced to surf­ing roy­alty – Derek Hynd and Tom Car­roll are re­ally good friends.” “So I learnt to surf with Derek,” Vän­skä adds proudly.

But shar­ing the stage, the spot­light, the rush of adrenaline, the highs and lows that come hand in hand with per­form­ing, now that’s a dif­fer­ent beast.

Vän­skä and Tognetti grew up worlds apart. She was born to Fin­nish Lutheran mis­sion­ary par­ents in Ja­pan, where she first learnt to play vi­o­lin aged three. Her fam­ily re­turned to Fin­land in 1989 and she con­tin­ued study­ing, go­ing on to per­form with or­ches­tras such as the Mu­nich Phil­har­monic and the Bavar­ian Ra­dio Sym­phony Orches­tra. She moved to Aus­tralia in 2004 af­ter be­ing in­vited to au­di­tion for the ACO and was quickly made as­sis­tant leader and prin­ci­pal vi­o­lin. Tognetti grew up in Wol­lon­gong, on the New South Wales south coast, and was sim­i­larly gifted, study­ing at the Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium and later the Berne Con­ser­va­tory in Switzer­land, be­fore be­ing ap­pointed leader of the ACO at just 24. He was sub­se­quently named artis­tic di­rec­tor, adding ar­range­ments and com­po­si­tions to his reper­toire with a cham­ber orches­tra that con­tin­ues to be re­garded as one of the world’s best. Col­lab­o­ra­tions with a di­verse ar­ray of artists, Bill Hen­son, Michael Le­u­nig and Neil Finn among them, keep things fresh and con­tem­po­rary.

Here is a cou­ple then – to­gether for well over a decade and mar­ried for three years – who live, work and travel to­gether. The per­fect recipe for di­vorce, one might ar­gue? The re­al­ity is their day-to-day lives are quite sep­a­rate. Tognetti’s job is as much about man­ag­ing peo­ple while Vän­skä’s is as a mem­ber of the tight-knit orches­tra. “I think we’re very good at switch­ing off quickly and re­turn­ing to be­ing a cou­ple,” Vän­skä says. Tognetti points out that Vän­skä is “just great at be­ing in­de­pen­dent, an im­por­tant part of any re­la­tion­ship” but key to their suc­cess must surely be that the ma­sonic tem­ple they call home is sep­a­rated into male and fe­male quar­ters. “I’ve got up­stairs,” nods Vän­skä. “At home to have your own space is im­por­tant. But other than that we’re quite happy to spend all our time to­gether.”

The truth of it is they gain a huge amount of sat­is­fac­tion from be­ing in the com­pany of an­other con­sum­mate cre­ative. “We like to per­form to­gether, but there’s also a com­fort in be­ing with some­one who is so bril­liant at what they do, you trust their judge­ment,” Vän­skä says. “I’d much rather have her on stage be­ing work­man­like than sit­ting in the au­di­ence judg­ing me,” adds Tognetti.

Vän­skä may play sec­ond fid­dle to Tognetti from a hi­er­ar­chi­cal point of view, but if there’s one area where she is the undis­puted leader it is ACO Un­der­ground, a smaller ensem­ble that takes cham­ber music to night­clubs, steamy bars, even a Slove­nian for­mer porn theatre. Con­ceived by Vän­skä, it fuses Bach with Nir­vana, Beethoven with Ra­dio­head, and fea­tures reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tors Jim Moginie from Mid­night Oil, Vi­o­lent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie and Ra­dio­head’s Jonny Greenwood.

“It gives us the op­por­tu­nity to present ‘our’ music, play­ing what you might call clas­si­cal music in a way that’s much more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple who might never have been to a con­cert be­fore, younger au­di­ences, giv­ing them ac­cess to this rich and won­der­ful music,” Vän­skä says. “It’s her gig, but I get to write and ar­range some songs and I looove be­ing asked to do it,” en­thuses Tognetti. “And I love the less pres­sured at­mos­phere. The rock’n’roll world means [it’s for­given] if you play a wrong note or even fuck up a phrase or a whole song.”

It was through ACO Un­der­ground that Vän­skä also dis­cov­ered her voice, as Tognetti re­counts: “I was writ­ing some music and needed a vo­cal­ist and knew Satu would sound a mil­lion times bet­ter than me: my voice is ex­cru­ci­at­ing. So I asked her to sing a cou­ple of notes and I thought: ‘Wow, that sounded pretty good.’ The rest is his­tory.”

Vän­skä’s haunt­ing voice went on to fea­ture in The Glide, a mul­ti­me­dia per­for­mance com­bin­ing ocean and surf­ing footage by pho­tog­ra­pher Jon Frank with music per­formed by the ACO. It in­spired Mu­sica Sur­fica, the 2008 doc­u­men­tary film Tognetti cocre­ated, which won various awards. Tognetti’s first foray into film had been co-com­pos­ing the score and teach­ing Rus­sell Crowe vi­o­lin for Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Mas­ter and Com­man­der. Next came The Reef, a mul­ti­me­dia pro­duc­tion and a fresh take on music, surf­ing and film that toured Aus­tralia and the world.

Tognetti has now taken it one step fur­ther again, with the new Aus­tralian film Moun­tain. Three and a half years in the mak­ing, it brings to­gether lo­cal BAFTA-nom­i­nated Sherpa di­rec­tor Jennifer Pee­dom, cin­e­matog­ra­pher and pro­fes­sional moun­taineer Re­nan Oz­turk, best-sell­ing au­thor Robert Macfar­lane, nar­ra­tor Willem Dafoe and Tognetti’s score, which drives much of the film. The film ex­plores the hu­man ob­ses­sion with con­quer­ing na­ture and push­ing them­selves to the lim­its, of­ten at risk of death or in­jury.

It is an ob­ses­sion this cou­ple can ap­pre­ci­ate, in more ways than one. Take surf­ing, for ex­am­ple. “Surf­ing is my life. It’s like heroin, ex­cept it’s so good for you,” says Tognetti. “It’s an amaz­ing feel­ing, when you are alive on the ocean. I think we both live off those re­ally big con­trasts,” adds Vän­skä. Much like live per­for­mance. “The si­lence of the con­cert hall … you’re a trapeze artist when you’re a vi­o­lin­ist, aren’t you?” she re­flects. “Things hap­pen all the time – strings slip, you come in at slightly the wrong place,” con­curs Tognetti. “Or your hus­band, who is your col­league, ac­ci­den­tally has his pants tucked into his socks. That’s when the wife in me comes out,” says Vän­skä with a laugh, light­en­ing the mood.

And there we have it, mar­i­tal har­mony.

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