May 9-15, 2007

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Pain and Passion

Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg speaks in strings

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.

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