By Gabe Meline
An Italian-born child prodigy who moved to the United States at the age of eight, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is one of the most fascinating and heartbreaking figures of the classical world. Hers has been a career that many budding young violinists dream of, complete with worldwide performances, award-winning recordings and legendary television appearances. But it was very nearly destroyed when Salerno-Sonnenberg first accidentally cut off the tip of one of her fingers, and later, in a depression, attempted to kill herself with a small-caliber firearm. Fortunately, the gun jammed, Salerno-Sonnenberg lived, and two weeks later she was back onstage at Carnegie Hall pouring out her soul in a trademark enrapturing recital.
This tumultuous period was expertly captured in Paola di Florio’s Academy Award-winning documentary Speaking in Strings, a captivating and intimate film unfortunately short on footage from Salerno-Sonnenberg’s dynamic and emotional live performance; hence all the more reason to catch this weekend’s guest appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony. Salerno-Sonnenberg’s command of the violin is total; the actual sound may emit from the tiny hairs in a bow, but, undeniably, she plays the violin with every cell in her body. The last time she appeared with the Santa Rosa Symphony–in 1983, at the young age of 22–she relaxed between rehearsals by riding her bike around the parking lot, a baseball cap on her carefree head. The stress of fulfilling a demanding schedule was years away. Now in her 40s, she returns with a new lease on life, and most importantly, she can still play the living daylights out of the violin.
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony in a program conducted by Bruno Ferrandis that includes Vasks’ Sala and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Saturday-Monday, May 12-14. Saturday and Monday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. Wells Fargo Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $27-$50. 707.546.8742.