Francesca Dego: To a child things really come natural

Whom should I ask about THE BEGINNING, if not the people who are young? “At that time things really came very natural!” This sentence, admittedly, my interlocutor referred to the beginning in an absolute sense: to her childhood. But I think that one can extend it to the whole time of youth. Francesca Dego is a young, very talented and already famous violinist. In addition, she is characterized by something that is not so frequent: she likes to get to know what is still unknown, or forgotten. Doing so, Francesca Dego enriches what we already know.

Władysław Rokiciński: How is it when one is such a young artist and one has already so many recorded albums, what’s more in such a renowned record label?

Francesca Dego: I’ve never felt like any steps of my career have come too suddenly. It doesn't even really feel like I’m that young, I’ve been playing all my life and somehow it’s all about empathy, the capacity to grasp something of the composer’s soul, and to tell a story. As an interpreter I feel a very strong sense of responsibility in communicating the scores I play, in being their voice, so the audience can hear them. I don’t 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. That said, recording for Deutsche Grammophon is an incredible honour, one I am grateful for and I strive to deserve every day during practice and on stage.

Does it only make you happy, or do you feel also the burden of responsibility: what next?

I think the most amazing thing in this business, what makes me truly happy, is getting to surround myself with the people I know will enrich me and make me a better musician so this is what I strive for when I plan collaborations and projects. I’ve never coveted a career for its 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.

Which of your recordings, do you value the most?

I’m constantly practicing and performing some Paganini. The 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 and recording 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. Maybe these are the two recordings which have the most special meaning and memories for me.

You seem to have the nature of a discoverer, and like to look for repertoire which is little known, or even unknown, for composers who are forgotten? Can you tell us more about this, why you feel it is important and valuable?

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 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, and they are usually pieces I research and find interesting for a variety of reasons.

Can you tell us a few words about those composers, such as Wolf-Ferrari and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco? Why did you get interested in their music?

I fell in love with Wolf-Ferrari’s violin concerto almost by chance, after being approached in 2013 by a Russian orchestra interested in examining Italian 20th century symphonic repertoire in depth. They asked me to perform a lesser-known work and a friend suggested I consider the Wolf-Ferrari. During the following weeks I immersed myself in research of lesser-known but brilliant Italian composers, often disregarded for all the wrong reasons, including politics, contemporary musical taste and downright bad luck. The process was fascinating and I found myself discovering music by composers I’d only ever studied in history of music classes but didn't know much about, let alone had ever listened to. It would have been quite difficult to judge the work itself without the help of Casa Musicale Sonzogno, Wolf-Ferrari’s publisher for most of his later years, who provided me with copies of the score and part immediately and who have been incredibly supportive throughout this journey.

And how it was with Castelnuovo-Tedesco?

A similar thing happened with Castelnuovo-Tedesco. I first discovered this composer performing his tounge-in-cheek “Figaro” from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”, dedicated to Jascha Heifetz.

After hearing me play this delightful opera paraphrase on the radio, I was contacted by Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s granddaughter Diana who later helped me get a hold of some of his unpublished and unperformed works from the Library of Congress in Washington. As an Italian-American of Jewish heritage I also feel strongly connected and extremely troubled by the historic background of this wonderful composer. Castelnuovo-Tedesco fled to the US in 1939 following the promulgation of racial laws in Italy and had to start a whole new life in the States where he became a successful composer of movie soundtracks and the teacher of some of today’s best known composers, including John Williams.

Let us change the subject. Do you like to play in front of the audience? I can’t imagine that you don’t. In which concert hall in the world would you most like to perform? Such a dream of a young, but an already famous violinist.

What I love about the world of 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! I do adore being on stage and I’ve never felt it as a negative experience, even in concerts where I have been nervous. Among my experiences till now playing in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatoire Great Hall was unforgettable. Add to its glorious and daunting performance history (just think about everyone who has walked onto that stage!) the magical and distinctive acoustic of the greatest philharmonic halls and you have an overwhelming concert experience. 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.

Perhaps, I should have started with this question, and not leaving it to the end: were you an infant prodigy?

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 cry about it but then agree. I started playing at 4 years old thanks to my dad, who is actually a writer and college professor and only used to play the violin for pleasure. I was definitely very quick to learn and performed for the first time as soloist with an orchestra at 7. So I think I was considered something of a prodigy but at that time things really came very natural! I think with age one starts to realize what a big responsibility being on stage is. To embrace the challenge but maintain that fresh approach is something definitely worth striving for and very difficult to achieve.

Thank you very much for your time and the conversation.

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