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Salerno-Sonnenberg has added zest, power to NCCO

By Joshua Kosman Updated 7:26 am, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When the New Century Chamber Orchestrasigned violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as its new music director in 2 !" no one on either side o# the agreement was really sure what they were getting into$ Salerno-Sonnenberg%s long career as a soloist had established her as one o# the more dynamic and un&redictable artists on the concert stage" and she brought a dose o# star &ower to an organi'ation whose stature had never (uite measured u& to the scale o# its artistic achievements$ On the other hand" she had no e)&erience leading an orchestra o# any *ind$ +, didn%t *now anything"+ she said during a recent interview$ +, didn%t *now how to give a cue$ -ll , had was that ,%m a strong &ersonality" and , thin* ,%m sort o# a natural leader$ +But , had to do it all by instinct$ , learned on the job$+ .his wee*end" as the collaborators near the end o# their si)th season together" there%s no denying that the gamble has &aid o##$ .he orchestra &lays with the *ind o# #ierce e)uberance that is Salerno-Sonnenberg%s stoc*-in-trade" and an ambitious &rogram o# recording and touring bac*ed by the institutional in#rastructure that was already su&&orting Salerno-Sonnenberg%s solo career - has brought its wor* to ever-widening audiences$ -t home" meanwhile" Salerno-Sonnenberg" /0" has e)&anded the orchestra%s activities to include a ra#t o# joint underta*ings with local organi'ations$ -#ter last month%s &er#ormances o# 1oni'etti%s one-act comedy +2ita+ with the singers o# the San 3rancisco O&era Center" this wee*end brings the orchestra together with the men%s chorus Chanticleer #or +-tlantic Crossing"+ a &rogram o# music #rom 4uro&e and -merica during the years be#ore" during and a#ter World War ,,$ +When , #irst came on" , had certain ideas about what , wanted to do here"+ says SalernoSonnenberg" +but about a year into it , had the head-sla&&ing moment$ , thought" there%s so much going on here in San 3rancisco" it%s basically li*e New 5or*$ -nd , started thin*ing about collaborations$+

5ou don%t have to read her bio to *now that New 5or* is Salerno-Sonnenberg%s home - it only ta*es 0 seconds o# her ra&id-#ire conversation" which would leave most &eo&le &anting #or breath$ But that same energy translates into e)citing &er#ormances" as well as a restless search #or new artistic &aths$ +.he bottom line #or me is that the orchestra has to show some growth every year" no matter what%s going on #inancially$ ,%ll shoot mysel# i# there%s no sign o# moving #orward" even i# they tell me" %6ere%s your budget" it%s 72/" go$% + Salerno-Sonnenberg says her tenure with the NCCO hasn%t changed her a&&roach as a violinist" but it does ma*e her a&&reciate her solo career$ +,t%s so much less wor*"+ she says with a raucous laugh$ +,%m li*e" %.hat%s all8 Just the one &iece and , can go bac* to my hotel8% +But the biggest change is that when , &lay a concerto now" , have to use tremendous disci&line not to lead$ , have to remind mysel# that there%s a conductor there" and whether he%s doing what you want or not is irrelevant$ 5ou cannot $$$ you can%t $$$ don%t$ Just don%t$+ 6ow long does Salerno-Sonnenberg #oresee staying with the orchestra8 .hat%s a live (uestion that she re-evaluates every season" she says$ +,# what you%re doing is still showing growth" then good" stic* it out$ ,# not" it%s time to go$ +When the time comes" , will *now by how we &lay together$ 3or me" the bottom line is how it #eels when we wal* onstage and tune and , give the downbeat - the vibrancy and #ocus and desire$ +,# that wanes at all" then ,%ll *now$ But #or now" i# anything" it%s stronger than it%s ever been$+ New Century Chamber Orchestra and Chanticleer: ! &$m$ .hursday" Bing Concert 6all" Stan#ord9 ! &$m$ 3riday and Saturday" San 3rancisco Conservatory o# :usic" / Oa* St$" S$3$9 / &$m$ Sunday" Ocher :arin JCC" 2 N$ San ;edro 2oad" San 2a#ael9 ! &$m$ .uesday" 3irst

Congregational Church" 20</ Channing Way" Ber*eley$ 72=-7/=$ ><?/@ 0=2<< $ www$ncco$org$ Joshua Kosman is The San Francisco Chronicle's music critic. Email:jkosman@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JoshuaKosman