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The Week Ahead

Freedom is No. 1 for a 'bad-girl' violinist

November 21, 2005|Lynne Heffley

For her debut at Disney Hall this week, acclaimed violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, once labeled the "bad girl" of classical music for her outspokenness and fiery performance style, will play Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, a signature piece she fell in love with as a teenager.

"When I first heard it, it was like a challenge," said Salerno-Sonnenberg, who will perform with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Los Angeles Philharmonic from Friday through Sunday. "It seemed to run the gamut of emotions from A to Z. Now it's like an escape. It gives me permission musically to do all the things I like to do."

The desire to do what she likes to do also led to the maverick violinist's latest move. Unhappy at having "no say"about her recordings for longtime labels Angel/EMI Classic and Nonesuch, Salerno-Sonnenberg launched her own NSS Music label in September with two CDs: "Live!," a Lincoln Center performance with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, and a concerto album recorded live with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marin Alsop.

Salerno-Sonnenberg said she hopes to develop an eclectic catalog with "jazz artists and all kinds of things," reflecting her own "organic" path: In recent years she was a guest on Joe Jackson's cross-genre album "Heaven & Hell," performed klezmer on Mandy Patinkin's "Mamaloshen" CD and played "gypsy stuff" with Brazilian guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad.

The New York resident sees a jazz sensibility in her belief that classical music should inspire in musicians a "freedom of interpretation."

"Here you have a piece of music that was written 200 years ago, and it's been played God knows how many millions of times, and the point of you playing it is what, exactly?

"To do something different than has been done. There are at least 100 ways to play the same passage, while obeying and observing what's on the page."

The flamboyant style of Salerno-Sonnenberg no longer draws the criticism it did when she burst on the scene 25 years ago.

"The fact that I would fly out to Burbank and talk to Johnny Carson was something that the classical community didn't understand then," she said. "It in some way demeaned the tradition of classical music. Now we know better. It's good to just get it out there any way you can."

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