Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg brought her New Century Chamber Orchestra to the Massry Center for the Arts Saturday night as part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series.
The 19-member group was founded in 1992 but Salerno-Sonnenberg has been its music director/concertmistress only since 2008. Under her leadership, they have made two recordings to much acclaim and taken two tours. After three decades before the public as a star soloist/recitalist, it’s not surprising that she’d be interested in expanding her musical experiences. In recent years she’s toured with the sensational Assad brothers, a guitar duo.
As a soloist, Salerno-Sonnenberg is a force to be reckoned with: Intense, passionate, and focused, she has a matchless technique of such clarity that every note seems to have a life of its own. As a concertmistress, she invigorated her players for always more, and they responded. She also has humor and style: each player sported something red (Salerno-Sonnenberg wore red shoes).
They began with Rossini’s early effort: his Sonata No. 1 in G Major from a set of six sonatas written when he was 12. They played the three movements with a light bow, good pitch, strong accents, good balances and a lot of buoyant spirit.
Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which they recorded in 2010, is usually performed as an intimate invocation that borders on a sigh. The piece builds to a climax before it settles and dies away — but not with Salerno-Sonnenberg at the helm. Passion ruled the day.
As each section took its turn to express the melody, the intensity level kept getting higher until at the climax it was a cry of anguish. After a long pause, the quieter volume seemed more like resignation than acceptance.
William Bolcom wrote “Romanza” for Salerno-Sonnenberg. Darkly lyrical, angular and with emotional extremes, it was a perfect vehicle for her. While the first movement had its brilliance and hard edges, the second was lugubrious with an angry solo cadenza and the third movement was a funky cake walk. The orchestra gave Salerno-Sonnenberg plenty of support. She played the often virtuosic passages with her customary brilliance, boldness, irreverence and strong musicality.
Having everyone play in Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings, which is one of the glories of the chamber music repertoire, made the piece sound heavy. Gestures were grand rather than subtle. But the large crowd, which loved the show, couldn’t fault the level of energy: it was high passion, big volume and nonstop effort.
After a standing ovation and many cheers, they played Bolcom’s catchy “Incinerator Rag” and Chico Buarque’s “Todo sentimento,” arranged by Clarisse Assad as a romantic song.
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