Young, charismatic, and innovative, the 17-member Australian Chamber Orchestra has inspired other new ensembles with its collaborative ethos — it has no conductor — and innovative approaches. The group has gained international popularity with its brisk performances, often given with the players standing up.
The ACO was founded in 1975 by cellist John Painter. The group took on its current emphasis in 1990 when Richard Tognetti, then just 25 years old, became the group's leader and artistic director. Since then, the ACO has performed classical repertoire, newly commissioned pieces, and collaborations with a wide variety of artists both within the classical sphere (Steven Isserlis, Dawn Upshaw, Emmanuel Pahud) and beyond (rockers Neil Finn and Jonny Greenwood, and visual artists and filmmakers including Michael Leunig, Bill Henson, Shaun Tan, Jon Frank, and Jennifer Peedom). By the early 2000s the group was performing about 100 concerts a year across several continents. The ACO has appeared at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, London's Barbican Centre and Royal Festival Hall, Vienna's Musikverein, New York's Carnegie Hall, Birmingham's Symphony Hall, and Frankfurt's Alte Oper.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra's recording career began in 1987 with an album of Australian music, and expanded rapidly after Tognetti's hiring. It has recorded not only for Australia's ABC Classics label, but also for Chandos and, in the early 2010s, for BIS, where its recordings of Mozart's violin concertos (with Tognetti as soloist) won three consecutive Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards. A 2015 entry into the crowded field of recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos again featured Tognetti and was one of the few versions on the market to include the texts of the works' programmatic sonnets, perhaps written by Vivaldi himself. The move was typical of the orchestra's commitment to immediacy and accessibility in its performances and recordings. In 2017 the ACO released an album on ABC Classics pairing music by Mozart with that of Radiohead keyboardist Greenwood.