New Classical Tracks: A new partnership

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
August 31, 2009
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St. Paul, Minn. — Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is bi-coastal now. She lives in New York City and works in San Francisco, where she started her own record label and serves as Music Director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. The orchestra had worked without a conductor for 17 years, but when she performed with them as a guest artist, the chemistry between this soloist and the ensemble was so powerful they decided to forge a new working relationship. That's how Salerno-Sonnenberg added the titles of music director and conductor to her resume. Their first recording, titled "Together," is on Salerno-Sonnenberg's own record label, NSS, and it offers highlights from the past concert season.

The New Century Chamber Orchestra lives up to its name on this new release, which features works by three 20th century composers and one living composer, whose work opens the disc. The first piece is Clarice Assad's "Impressions: Suite for Chamber Orchestra," which blends classical, jazz and the subtle Latin rhythms of Assad's native Brazil. Assad was chosen as the New Century Chamber Orchestra's Featured Composer for the season. Salerno-Sonnenberg asked her to write a piece that would reflect her impressions of the orchestra. The first movement is titled "Personas: Theme and Variations." Anthony Manzo grooves his way through the jazzy bass solo on the third variation. A brief visit into the world of bluegrass follows with the second violins. In the second movement the New Century Chamber Orchestra swings into a joyful Brazilian dance. The fourth movement, titled "Precision: Perpetual Motion," is an articulate demonstration of this ensemble's vivacious nature and its ability to sound as one without compromising each performer's individuality.

Astor Piazzolla's "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" wasn't written originally as four distinct works, and it wasn't intended to pay homage to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." It was Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov who re-orchestrated the Piazzolla for Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer. By using certain quotations from Vivaldi, this updated version provides a bridge between these two composers. The New Century Chamber Orchestra plays the first movement, "Spring," (Primavera Portena), with great precision, and wild abandon. Listeners will have several "ah-ha" moments in Piazzola's "Summer," (Verano Porteno), which quotes directly from Vivaldi's "Winter." Why winter? When it's winter in the northern hemisphere, down in Argentina it's summer. The infectious tango-based rhythms and fiery solo lines make this gritty performance truly exhilarating.

By tweaking the arrangements of Bela Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg spread the concertmaster's solos out to the cello and viola as well. The updated arrangement of these dances is a fine testament to the talented instrumentalists who make up the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg has been a solo artist for many years. By teaming up with the New Century Chamber Orchestra she's stretching into the world of conducting, and totally digging it! Their first recording is bursting with the joy these musicians are experiencing as they make music, "Together."

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