Francesca Dego, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?

My Dad is a writer and journalist and only used to play the violin for pleasure. He definitely was the one I inherited the passion from and was the first to actually put a 1/8 size version of the instrument into my hands. He quickly realised I needed a professional teacher but during the first years of study he always guided me and helped me practice. We also used to play duets by Pleyel and Vivaldi and Bach’s double concertos, a wonderful way to spend time together and create a very special bond.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Salvatore Accardo was my idol way before he became my teacher. I remember the butterflies in my stomach the first time I played for him but also how his first remarks made me forget them all at once with humor and unpretentious firmness. I have always been able to talk to him and fervently discuss any musical decision. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else with his profound knowledge of the repertoire and quasi-religious respect for the composer’s markings. From him I assimilated the conviction that you cannot develop your own interpretation before having studied the score in depth.

My husband Daniele Rustioni is my musical best friend and constant source of inspiration. By following his opera performances and his detailed work with singers over so many years, I’ve been exposed to the great Italian repertoire, which I adore.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Professional musicians are immersed in a particularly competitive ad demanding environment whatever their career choice (orchestral, solo, teaching etc). In my experience it takes courage and determination but also honesty and commitment to an ideal to pursue one’s goals in this business. You have to come to terms with your insecurities at a very early age and strive to improve without being crushed by constant judgement. I remember often thinking it was to much for me, or that I couldn’t measure up to expectations. But being on stage and meeting inspiring colleagues was always my antidote, the one thing that has made everything worth it.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m constantly practicing and performing some Paganini. The sheer muscular and mental strain his music requires has always given me something to aim for and to be satisfied with myself upon achieving. My love/hate relationship with this composer makes me push myself to confront and overcome my limits. Recording and performing extensively all 24 caprices was one of the toughest but most rewarding feats in my life. More recently I’ve been performing Wolf-Ferrari’s virtually unknown concerto around the world, as well as recording it live with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon. Playing the UK premiere in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall was very exciting, and so was performing the piece in Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. Wolf-Ferrari was a proud venetian so finally bringing this piece to his beloved city, 73 years after it was written was an honour.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

In today’s market I think it’s crucial for a soloist to find the right balance between a comprehensive repertoire which has to include most of the major concertos and a treasure trove of less obvious works that reflect his/her taste, background and best musical qualities. I try to think of this when adding to my repertoire wish lists but also, and much more realistically, to what orchestras may be more interested in programming. I have a lot of fun coming up with original combinations for recital programmes, where I’m given more freedom of choice. I make sure I keep all the “big” concertos warm season after season (you need to be able to jump in for Brahms or Tchaikovsky, tomorrow if necessary!) but also try to learn and debut a couple of new concertos every year.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My latest CD was recorded in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, arguably the U.K.’s finest concert hall with its plethora of moveable acoustic panels. It inspires you to dig deep into your instrument but also lets the sound soar and envelop you completely. I also adore the new concert hall in Cremona’s Museo del violino, the atmosphere and sound are unique, it feels like you’re playing inside a violin. Playing in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall is also unforgettable. Add to it’s glorious and daunting performance history (just think about everyone who has walked onto that stage!) the magical and distinctive acoustic of the great eastern European philharmonic halls and you have an overwhelming concert experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 18 I performed at the Fortress in Volterra, today among Italy’s most notorious maximum-security prisons. I played Mozart with the Orchestra della Toscana and the deep sense of uneasiness started as soon as we left our mobile phones and cameras at the entrance and barred doors started slamming behind us. The conductor and I were given cells as changing rooms and armed guards accompanied us everywhere. Some prisoners got to sit in the courtyard for the concert, some behind a fence. High risk inmates and those with restricted status listened from behind the tiny windows of their cells. Leaving that place made me dizzy with relief and for the first time I think I fully grasped the meaning of freedom.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think the most amazing thing in this business is getting to surround yourself with the people you know will enrich you and make you a better musician so this is what I strive for when I plan collaborations and projects. I’ve never coveted a career for it’s own sake but as a means to achieve the best musical result possible. My dream is to always be able to work with orchestras and colleagues who inspire me and make it possible to create something special on stage.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I was very determined already at an early age and my mum used to tell me that if I really wanted to be a violinist I had to be responsible about it and practice. I would huff and puff about it but then agree. One of the best things about practicing is that it gives you daily goals and the more focused you are while working the less actual time is needed to achieve them. My advice to all young musicians would probably be similar to what my mother used to tell me: if you love it and it’s what you want to do never give up and remember that the only person in control of what progress you make is you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

One of the most exciting things in this line of work is that you really don’t know where you’ll be in 10 years’ time! I love looking forward to unexpected change, to not know where I’ll be living and what I’ll be playing. I definitely see myself on stage and running around the world to play and to spend time with my husband, but I’m happy to be surprised by the details!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What I love about classical music is that it connects all sorts of people. Meeting and playing for different audiences is very enriching and the energy one gets on stage changes at every concert and helps shape the performance! Ending up in unexpected places and learning firsthand about cultural habits and local traditions is thrilling. Being able to do the job I love and that inspires me every day and still being able to spend time with my husband and loved ones is definitely my idea of happiness.

Francesca Dego’s debut orchestral recording is out now on Deutsche Grammophon. Recorded with conductor Daniele Rustioni and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the recording features Wolf-Ferrari’s seldom played Violin Concerto and Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1.

Watch the trailer:

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