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 humour 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 and 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. As an interpreter I also feel a very strong sense of responsibility in communicating the scores I play, in being their voice, so the audience can hear them. I dont think one can ever feel like they have arrived” in this job. What is so thrilling is what is around the corner, and the hard work you need to be ready to get there. It isn’t easy to stay focused and sometimes the pressure can be overwhelming so I really consider my hours of practice as my safe space, where I can build up the strength (and sometimes the barriers) I need to go out on stage feeling secure. I somehow face my biggest challenges when I’m alone, overcoming my weakness and trying to boost my sense of control in a steady and analytic way because out there, on stage, anything can happen!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Paganini has always been my lucky composer. My debut recording was released on DG in 2012 with his 24 caprices, the Mount Everest for any violinist. My love/hate relationship with this composer makes me push myself to confront and overcome my limits. Recently I got to record a very special album, my first with Chandos, playing Paganini’s very own Guarneri del Gesù, “Il Cannone”, the Cannon. I was literally overwhelmed when I first played it, moved to tears. It’s the instrument that inspired the likes of Schumann, Schubert, Goethe, Rossini, Bellini, Berlioz, Chopin, Heine… not to mention Paganini himself, composing and touring with it for almost forty years. I remember visiting the museum as a young girl, hoping, dreaming to play on “Il Cannone” one day. And suddenly there I was. That said, I must admit that my upcoming Mozart release with Sir Roger Norrington and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is the first instalment of my most inspiring project yet! Had I not met and started working with Sir Roger I might have waited another 20 years before recording Mozarts perfect violin concerti. Suddenly with him everything made sense, the direction I had been searching for and working on for years felt spontaneous and fresh. We discussed sound, phrasing, bowings, vibrato, ornamentation and tempi for months, enjoying the process and equally enjoying constantly changing our minds when discovering new details!  am truly thrilled and honoured to present my” Mozart alongside one of the most admired Mozart interpreters in history. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it!

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?

Among my experiences till now playing in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatoire Great Hall was unforgettable. Add to that its glorious and daunting performance history (just think about everyone who has walked onto that stage!) the magical and distinctive acoustic and you have an overwhelming concert experience. I’m also in love with La Fenice Theatre in Venice, one of the most gorgeous halls in the world, where I will be returning this year to perform Bernstein Serenate (which was premiered there with Bernstein conducting and Stern playing!) and with Suntory Hall in Tokyo, where I’ve had the joy of performing regularly. These are places where you can play your heart out because the acoustic and the atmosphere help you every step of the way. And I do love thinking of the history of venues, the extreme emotions shared by performers and audiences before me. I must say that a dream not yet come true is to play at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the city where I studied and grew up.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical musics audiences?

The best thing we can do to improve the format of the classical concert and make it available to as many people as possible is to allow it to continue in the first place. If nations continue to cut subsidies, if we cannot offer the audience the same quality because our budgets are reduced, if we cannot invest in outreach and education, then the audience will decline and the new generation won’t have access to top notch music making. The audience comes from continued investment. The investment must come first. It is a travesty that culture seems to come last on the agendas of so many countries. The world must fund one of its finest art forms to the level its dignity requires. Let us continue to share our great music. Support our opera houses and orchestras, and support music education in schools. It is in the hands of our leaders to make this choice. 

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 most treasured possession? 

The gorgeous Francesco Ruggeri violin I now perform and I am totally in love with. You learn to analyse an instrument’s strengths and weaknesses and in time that knowledge plays an important role in shaping the interpretation itself. I love being inspired by the endless possibilities in tone production the Ruggeri gives me. It is one of the last violins made by the famous Cremonese maker, dated 1697, a year before he died. The bow I use is a Dominique Peccatte made around 1850. It’s a red-blooded bow, full of character. It took me some time to get used to it but now I find it’s the perfect companion to the Ruggeri.

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.

Acclaimed American-Italian violinist Francesca Dego joins forces with the legendary conductor and period performance expert, Sir Roger Norrington for this eagerly-anticipated recording of Mozart’s Third and Fourth Violin Concertos. Astonishingly, this is the first recording of these works for both the soloist and the conductor. The recording is released on 3 September 2021 on the Chandos label.

Known for her sonorous tone, compelling interpretations, flawless technique and collaborative approach, violinist Francesca Dego made her concerto debut at the age of seven. She has swiftly risen to prominence as a highly-regarded interpreter who regularly performs on world stages with leading orchestras and eminent conductors. As well as her celebrated music-making, Dego is a published author of a book on classical music and is often asked to contribute articles and opinion pieces to specialist music publications.

A second volume of Mozart Violin Concertos is scheduled for recording in mid-September 2021 and an album showcasing a selection of Mozart Violin Sonatas, hand-picked by Dego, is also planned.

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