You may think you're hearing voices at violinist Francesca dePasquale's recital next Sunday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Be assured: the effect is intentional.
The 26-year-old scion of the Philadelphia Orchestra's string-playing dePasquale clan isn't giving a dressed-for-success recital, either in her forthcoming concert or on her just-issued debut album, Francesca dePasquale. Instead, she commissioned something new, having received a Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship, amounting to $100,000 over two years. The piece: Oceanic Fantasy by composer Paola Prestini, incorporating on-location street sounds recorded in Italy near where dePasquale's grandfather was from. Nothing terribly radical, but it's hardly typical.
"We're careful with the volume level. We aren't going to accost anybody with some crazy sounds," she said. "But there's definitely been some sense of surprise within the audience. The energy in the room shifts."
Currently on a tour that includes Reading, Philadelphia, and the ultra-fashionable Brooklyn venue National Sawdust, dePasquale has enlisted her piano collaborator Meng-Chieh Liu to handle the electronic element.
The rest of the program, both on disc and in concert, is a highly personal, eclectic mixture of Bach, Bartók, and Korngold - again, nothing radical but hardly typical. Mentors such as Itzhak Perlman never cautioned her to play it safe. Not that it would do any good with this strong-minded musician. She was questioned, though, about including Bach's famous Partita No. 2 - widely considered advanced adult music. But she would not be stopped, and the performance is in many ways a calling card for her musical values.
Though many violinists grapple more aggressively with the grand architectural edifice sketched out by the unaccompanied violin, dePasquale exhibits great care for the actual sound of the piece. Distinctive indeed. One could even say it sounds like nothing else and establishes her as an evolved musical personality. On the recording, she partly credits producer Adam Abeshouse, who is known for giving layers to the sounds he records.
But the contagiousness of the Philadelphia Orchestra sound would also have to be a factor. She is, after all, the daughter of the orchestra's longtime concertmaster, the late William dePasquale, who died in 2012. "When I think of the rehearsals and concerts I heard, what I was surrounded with, it's going to have an effect whether you realize it or not," she said. "My dad and I talked about the sound sometimes. So much of it came from Eugene Ormandy, the acoustics at the Academy of Music, lots of different factors. I listen to recordings of my father before he joined the orchestra and his sound changed a lot in Philadelphia."
Her musical pedigree - her father and three string-playing brothers formed a string quartet, and her mother, Gloria, still plays in the Philadelphia Orchestra - counts for much but perhaps not in predictable ways. Francesca started playing at age 3, but the relationship with music was casual enough that she could have a true childhood, often playing sports with her two older brothers, who gave up their violins when she took up hers.
Initially, she resented when her father gave her advice while she was practicing. Later, she sought it out. She also chose home schooling because she wanted more practice time. She earned her undergraduate degree at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music before moving on to the Juilliard School, where she studied with Perlman and Catherine Cho.
Her family chose careers playing in orchestras, but dePasquale has a more diversified life. Now based in New York, she teaches at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and is teaching assistant to Perlman at Juilliard. And at the moment, she is living the life of a soloist.
She rules out nothing in a musical marketplace in which career musicians have never had so many options and so little clarity. The days when agents and advisers would protectively descend on a promising new talent are not over. But they often seem to be, at a time when young artists must take command of their own careers and do so much of the logistical work themselves. That means being your own travel agent and tour planner.
Having grown up behind the scenes, dePasquale is perhaps more qualified than most to navigate 21st-century classical music.
The Annenberg grant "allowed me to explore my own individual voice," she said. "I've always loved chamber music and perform as part of a piano trio. I've done a little substituting for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. And I'm looking forward to seeing what's next in all of this."