Artist Interview: Francesca dePasquale, violin

By Patrick Burke on March 17, 2016
Francesca dePasquale
Francesca dePasquale

Violinist Francesca dePasquale makes her PCMS recital debut on Sunday, April 3 with pianist Meng-Chieh Liu. Ms. dePasquale was the First Prize winner of the 2010 Irving M. Klein International String Competition and recipient of the prestigious career grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts. I recently spoke with the Philadelphia native about her up-coming program and new CD, her passion for music education, and what it was like growing up in arguably one of the city’s most musical families.

Patrick Burke: Your April 3rd recital is part of a tour in conjunction with your recently released album. Would you mind telling us about the works you will be performing, how they came together, and what the recording process was like?

Francesca dePasquale For my self-titled debut album, I chose works that are not only personally meaningful, but that show an arc of my development as an artist. As a musician, my roots are deeply embedded in the music I heard growing up as a child. The works on my album that stem from my musical upbringing are the Bach Partita no. 2 in D minor, Schumann Intermezzo from the FAE Sonata, and Korngold’s own arrangement for violin and piano of "Marietta's Lied" from his opera Die tote Stadt.

I heard one or both of my parents practice Bach almost daily, and beginning with Bach on the album aptly represents the origins of harmony and intimacy of expression that are so intrinsic to a young musician’s development. The Schumann has an innate lyricism and sense of romantic expression that, for me, resonates with the noted Philadelphia Orchestra string sound that surrounded me as a child. The choice of including Korngold on the album was a deeply personal one, as the composer was one of my father’s favorites. The works from the album that reflect my development as an artist are the Bartók Rhapsody no. 1, Messiaen Thème et Variations, and a new, commissioned work by Paola Prestini for solo violin and electronics. Discovering Bartók's language meant understanding a means of expression that begins to depart slightly from traditional tonality. The expressive and technical demands in the Rhapsody are unique and not always conventionally violinistic. The Messiaen departs much further from tonality, exploring a timeless melody with unusual intervals over clustered harmony. The new, commissioned work by Paola Prestini stems from the ancient folk songs of Southern Italy. Paola took elements from field recordings and sound samples, weaving them together with her own distinctive language to create a fantasy work for the violin.

Recording these works was an incredible journey. I felt that the recording process clarified and magnified my listening as a musician, helping me to discover more variation of tone color and nuance of phrasing. Performing these works live is ultimately a completely different experience that I look forward to discovering throughout the tour.

PB: Included in your performance is the Philadelphia premiere of a work you commissioned. What is the process like in commissioning and working with your friend, Paola Prestini? How much of a role do you take in the compositional development?

FdP: Commissioning was a completely new process for me, one that I knew I wanted to experience through the support of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund. The idea for Oceanic Fantasy evolved over a couple of conversations with Paola, namely about my father's family emigrating from the Southern Italian region of Calabria in Italy. Paola told me about her time in residence in the neighboring region of Lecce and how she had discovered these incredible field recordings of Italian songs made by Alan Lomax. Having recently taken inspiration from these field recordings to create her opera, Oceanic Verses, Paola had the idea to draw from these folk songs to compose a fantasy work for the violin with ambient electronics. Composers drawing inspiration from operas is not completely new, as in the many adaptations of Carmen for the violin, but it was unique to collaborate with Paola in this process. I helped choose the songs that resonated with me musically and that I felt would work well for the violin, and Paola constructed this amazing journey from one vignette to the next. We got together a couple of times to edit the draft and discuss interpretation, which was an incredible process. More often than not we were on the same interpretive wavelength, but when we were not it was fascinating to discuss the material together. The result is an immensely personal work that not only celebrates artistic exploration of the contemporary, but also nods to my family’s heritage. In this way, Paola’s work brings everything on the album together.

PB: Saying you come from a musical family may be an understatement. Would you mind telling our audience about your musical upbringing? When did you start playing the violin and what are some of your earliest musical memories?

FdP: It's true that this may be a bit of an understatement! I grew up with music surrounding me as a child. My father was a violinist and former Co-Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and my mother is a member of their cello section. Additionally, my uncles filled the roles of Principal Viola and Assistant Principal second violin. Another uncle, who passed away before I was born, was also a cellist with the orchestra. Additionally, some of my cousins are string players, and even my brothers, now lawyers, played violin as children. Every person in my young life played an instrument, and so I thought all human beings did. I was very disappointed to discover that this was not the case, but I think this drives my desire to bring music to as many children as possible that may not otherwise be exposed to it at a young age. I started playing the violin when I was three years old, after several attempts to open the cases of my family's instruments during their quartet rehearsal coffee breaks. Some of my earliest musical memories include listening to the dePasquale String Quartet rehearse in our home; the bench in the Academy of Music backstage green room; my uncle Bob teaching me how to vibrate; and performing the Mendelssohn Octet with an ensemble comprised entirely of family members. I still remember how exciting that performance was, and the first time in rehearsal when I realized the fourth violin solo in the first movement was actually my moment.

PB: On top of being an incredible performer, you’re also deeply committed to classical music outreach and education. Could you tell us about your endeavors outside of the concert hall?

FdP: I absolutely believe that bringing music to the community outside of the concert hall is part of what it means to be a musician. My parents brought me up with this mentality, and for me the idea that music should be for everyone continues to inspire this philosophy. I grew up playing on some of the Philadelphia Orchestra Sound All Around programs and made visits to local schools with my parents, including trips to a school for students with muscular dystrophy. During my undergraduate studies at The Colburn School, I worked as a mentor for Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. During my master's degree at Juilliard, I began teaching privately and gave a series of masterclasses, interactive presentations, performances, and lessons for hundreds of students in Brazil for Juilliard Global. Additionally, I began working as the Starling Fellow teaching assistant to Itzhak Perlman and teaching assistant to Catherine Cho. I still teach in those capacities and I recently joined the faculty at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts, as well as the Heifetz Institute Program for the Exceptionally Gifted. I still look for outreach possibilities alongside my solo performances and during my recital tour I will give presentations to at least 10 different schools and communities.

Violinist Francesca dePasquale performs with Meng-Chieh Liu, piano on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.

Francesca's self-titled album is currently available for purchase digitally on iTunes and Amazon, with physical copies available on Amazon and CDbaby.

For more information on Ms. dePasquale, visit her website.