The sound of movies

Violinist and composer Richard Tognetti talks about giving audiences a difference experience of music and movies with Cinemusica.

Imagine hearing the chilling strings in the score of Psycho without Janet Leigh’s terrified expression on the screen. How would you feel? Would you still react the same way?

It’s something the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) and Synergy Percussion are interested in finding out.

Their new collaboration Cinemusica came from a shared love of film, and will showcase iconic scores, new works and classics closely aligned with the movies.

Director and violinist Richard Tognetti says they want to explore the music on its own terms, without the image.

“We thought wouldn’t it be interesting to put this music together and what reaction is created,” he says.

“Deliberately we’re removing the external visual and through the music hopefully creating a particular type of internal visual.”

The program includes selections from Thomas Newman’s American Beauty score, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho: A Suite for Strings, and Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which many will recognise Stanley Kubrick used with great (and terrifying effect) in The Shining.

Two Xenakis works, Voile and Psappha, will also feature, along with a new work by Synergy Percussion artistic director Timothy Constable.

Tognetti says Cinemusica began while brainstorming how the ACO could collaborate with Synergy Percussion.

“There is this one and only great piece that involves percussion and strings,” he says, referring to Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

“And it just so happens it’s used to create a film by Kubrick.”

As they continued to talk, Tognetti’s favourite modern era film composer Thomas Newman popped up in conversation. Constable and Tognetti found they shared an appreciation of Newman’s work with American Beauty and In the Bedroom (as opposed to Skyfall and Spectre).

“We thought why not bring it to life in the concert hall?” he says.

“It’s not concert music, it’s hypnotic film music, so it’ll be interesting to see how people respond.”

The rest of the program fell into place and now Cinemusica is preparing to open in Sydney on April 2, before touring to Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide throughout the month.

Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s line about how Herrmann’s score made up 33 per cent of Psycho, Tognetti agrees.

“(Music) more than complements film,” he says. “It takes it to another level.

“And it does manipulate you, sometimes in a positive way, but sometimes I find in a mushy way, like with John Williams.”

Tognetti himself has worked on film a number of times, including co-composing the score for Peter Weir’s 2003 epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. On top of that, he also tutored its star Russell Crowe in violin and performed on the soundtrack.

“(Peter) loves classical music and you hear that through a lot of his films. You’ve got to have a very deft hand working with him,” Tognetti says, adding there were a lot of notes so he to create exactly what Weir had in mind.

“He’s an auteur, a real director’s director…

“To be commissioned as a film composer, you are a servant to the director, without any question. Unless you’re John Williams and Steven Spielberg.”

Cinemusica opens on April 2 in Sydney, before touring to Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide. Click here for more details.

Richard Tognetti’s noteworthy Australian film scores & composers

PAUL COX (director)

“I really think Paul Cox’s use of music was extraordinary”


“I thought Wake in Fright was fantastic, just amazing. It was a really good, sparse use of music that wasn’t overwrought because it would have cancelled out the film”

KENNY (2006)

“You get surprising little vignettes like with Kenny, which is really bizarre but worth noting and a highly memorable use of music. An arrangement of a very well-known Mozart concerto, with the viola and violin, was used and it just worked extraordinarily well”


“Peter Weir’s use of music in Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the all-time classics. It’s up with the spaghetti westerns of Ennio Morricone, as far as playing three notes on the panpipes and you’re there”