Ahead of her WASO debut, we spoke with acclaimed violinist Francesca Dego about her journey to musical success, the most memorable moments in her career to date, and how she’s preparing for her time in Australia.

Can you share your journey in preparing to perform Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and what challenges the piece presents?

The sheer depth of this concerto is staggering, in my mind comparable only to Beethoven and Brahms concertos in the violin repertoire. I’ve been performing it for over ten years but it is definitely always a journey, which at times makes me feel moved and at others completely crushed. I remember my teacher telling me that when you’re on stage you need to ‘put your heart in a frying pan but keep your brain in the refrigerator’, and it’s that balance that I find the hardest to maintain in this piece.

The third movement, the Passacaglia, with its iconic cadenza - a full movement in its own right that just keeps growing and expanding in scope and volume - is the emotional core of the piece. There is one spot, the violin blending in with the horn solo, where I can’t hold back tears, every time I practice or perform it. I sometimes wonder how I’ll be able to save enough energy to face the finale, a fiery and virtuosic Burlesque. So, I guess preparation in this case is a lot about emotional and physical stamina.

Shostakovich is perhaps best known for his Symphonies. What do you find most intriguing about his works for violin?

I am a big Shostakovich fan and one of the reasons is that I think his musical soul and language are always so honest and recognisable, pure even, a bit like Mozart! His chamber music and symphonies are, of course, unchallenged masterpieces but I’m convinced his first violin concerto is right up there with them.

You can’t avoid being dragged into a theatrical whirlwind with this piece, starting in a hush, with a “suppression of feelings” (David Oistrakh’s words) in the first movement, bursting in the feverish and demonic Scherzo (which has some fiendishly difficult rhythmic dialogue between violin solo and woodwinds!) and finding the courage to cry in the third, an overwhelming funeral march for humanity.


Your parents encouraged your talents on the violin from a young age. How did your upbringing shape you as a musician?

My parents aren’t professional musicians so I grew up feeling I always had a choice. My Dad was a well-known Italian writer and journalist and used to play the violin for pleasure. He was definitely 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.

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 should be responsible about it and practice: “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”. I would huff and puff about it but end up agreeing.

Francesca Dego at the age of four

You’ve done some amazing things in your career – including recording on Niccolò Paganini’s legendary violin, the ‘Il Cannone’. What are some of your career highlights to date?

Paganini has definitely 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 always made me push myself to confront and overcome my limits. Recording with Paganini’s very own Guarneri del Gesù, ‘Il Cannone’, was of course also memorable! I was literally overwhelmed when I first played it and moved to tears. It’s the instrument that inspired the likes of Schumann, Schubert, Goethe, Rossini, Bellini, Berlioz, Chopin, and Heine… not to mention Paganini himself, composing and touring with it for almost forty years.

Then there is Mozart. Had I not met and started working with Sir Roger Norrington, I might have waited another 20 years before recording Mozart’s perfect violin concertos. 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, equally enjoying the process and constantly changing our minds when discovering new details! I am truly thrilled and honoured to have recorded “my” Mozart alongside one of the most admired Mozart interpreters in history, and that it ended up being his last project on disk (he retired the same year).

I could definitely go on with a list of venues and orchestras worldwide but 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.

Francesca Dego with Sir Roger Norrington

This concert marks your WASO debut. What are you most looking forward to doing in Perth besides your performances?

I can’t wait to share music with WASO and reunite with Maestro Fisch whom I last performed with in Indianapolis. I’ve never been to Western Australia before, and I have a couple of days off around the concerts, so I hope to explore Perth and possibly find a little time for a wine-tasting or quokka-spotting excursion! 

Beethoven’s Eroica
5 & 6 July, Perth Concert Hall
Tickets on sale now