What does it take to make the transformation from high-profile soloist to music director of an orchestra? Just ask violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. In 2008, she joined the New Century Chamber Orchestra, a conductorless all-string ensemble based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was charged with reinvigorating the orchestra and raising its national profile. Balancing her New Century schedule with a daunting calendar of international recital and solo appearances, the violinist has thrown herself into her orchestra job with the kind of gusto you’d expect from watching her perform Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires or violin concertos by Barber and Shostakovich. Salerno-Sonnenberg calls her relationship with New Century a “marriage that works.”
The New Century Chamber Orchestra turned 20 during the 2011-12 season, a milestone it celebrated with an East Coast tour in the fall, where it received rave reviews. You can get an idea of the energy and camaraderie during that tour from the NCCO’s tour blog. In California, Salerno-Sonnenberg works in tandem with Executive Director Parker E. Monroe and the rest of the orchestra’s administrative staff. In addition to offering five programs per year in venues throughout the San Francisco Bay area, the NCCO does education work in local schools and commissions works from its composer in residence—currently Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. In May, the NCCO will perform the world premiere of Zwilich’s La Commedia dell’Arte on concerts that include Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, and Heidrich’s Happy Birthday Variations. Under Salerno-Sonnenberg, the orchestra has made two recordings and has a DVD coming out this spring.
At New Century, Salerno-Sonnenberg generally leads from the concertmaster’s chair, except in pieces where she serves as soloist. In a recent video interview at the Juilliard School, Salerno-Sonnenberg repeatedly referred to New Century as her family, and quipped, “When I am working with that group, it’s like the Waltons!”
Click below to watch SymphonyNOW’s interview with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.