Francesca Dego is one of the world’s most sought after young violinists and she performs at Harrogate International Festivals’ Sunday Series this month.
“He’s always spoken so much of Leeds as one of the best places he lived and taught!” Francesca says speaking from her home in Milan.
In 2008 Dego became the first Italian female prize winner of the renowned Paganini Competition since 1961, as well as being the youngest finalist. She went on to score a recording contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label when most of her peers were still finishing graduate school.
“It was a turning point, not one at the time I recall fondly,” she says. “It was really stressful for me. I lost six kilo during the competition. I’ve never actually reacted that well in life to competitions. I always give my best on stage as I feel there’s something very positive in the air, but I think competitions can be very heavy and squash your sense of optimism and positivity. I’ve always disliked that side of it.”
Recently, she was picked by BBC Music Magazine as a Rising Star, but as she’s been playing for over a decade, she insists her career has developed organically.
“One of the most inspiring things in a career is the possibility to meet and collaborate with amazing people. This is the most enriching thing, not what you achieve CV wise but the people - conductors and colleagues - you get to play with.”
Francesca cites her dad as her biggest influence in taking up the violin. “Classical music was always a very strong passion for him – if he had another life he would have been a professional violinist. He was always playing when I was young.”
Her father was born in northern Italy of Catholic descent, her Jewish mother in New York (Francesca lived in the States between the ages of five and seven). As such, she says she never felt a very strong national identity, but Italy is home. “I’m very much in love with living in Italy – it will always remain a base for me somehow.”
Francesca admits music is ‘all consuming’, adding “but it’s a passion, it’s not a burden. I feel very privileged to be able to do this as a job.” In 2017, she’ll be releasing a new recording performing a Violin Concerto composed in the early 1940s by the Italian composer, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari.
Audiences in Harrogate will experience a glimpse of her passion for the pre-war Italian composers when she plays in the International Festivals’ Sunday series this month.
“I’ve been looking in these past years into bringing to a wider audience some of the 20th century Italian composers that have been placed less over the last 60 years. I’ll be playing a piece by Castelnuovo-Tedesco. After WW2, in Italy everyone wanted to break off with the post-romantic past, it was abandoned. It’s great to rediscover these composers.”
One of the striking things about the Sunday Series is the number of young musicians it features, including in 2017, 27-year-old clarinettist Julian Bliss, and 33 year-old pianist Alessandro Taverna. There have been many young musicians who sex up their image or but a rock ‘n’ roll spin on classical. “I don’t think that if everyone had the right access to classical music that you’d need to sell it to young people,” says Dego. “Young people who grow up with knowledge of it, love it on its own.” She cites how Operas were like musicals in Italy until the last century, seen as popular music. If music was taught more in schools, she feels the future would change.
“It should be everywhere in school, then all these problems would go away, because you wouldn’t need to explain it to young people who have misplaced ideas that it’s too difficult, or boring, or it’s not fashionable – that whole series of problems you encounter.”
Francesca Dego, violin with Francesca Leonardi, piano, perform on January 29, 11am at the Old Swan Hotel Harrogate as part of Harrogate International Festivals’ Sunday Series which runs until April. For full programme details visit www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com