Pro violinist to play with orchestra

Soloist, teacher Salerno-Sonnenberg to mentor Mac musicians as they perform together Saturday

Ellen Fox, staff reporter

Kristin Hoe-bermann
Portrait of Salerno-Sonnenberg by Kristin Hoe-bermann. Reposted with permission.

Distinguished violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will play on Saturday with the McCallum Orchestra for a fundraiser at the AISD Performing Arts Center.

Last year when the McCallum Orchestra went to Loyola, where Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg teaches, she saw them perform and was impressed by their abilities. She was approached by Cathy Wood, an orchestra mother, to play with the McCallum orchestra in a concert. She accepted the invitation is set to come to Austin to play with them on Nov. 10.

Nadja is known throughout the world for her skill in playing the violin. She told The Shield that finding success as a musician is one part natural talent, one part ability to learn, and one part having someone or multiple people who are good to learn from. She said she hopes to serve as a mentor of sorts to the McCallum orchestra through doing this show.

The orchestra students hope the same thing.

“I’m really excited to get the opportunity to play with such a world-renowned violinist,” senior cellist Clayton Boyd said. “It will teach me what to expect when working with professional soloists if I continue on with music at a higher level.”

This experience will definitely be different because it requires all of the orchestra to know all of the music well enough to follow the soloist without a conductor, and it really requires the orchestra to really be in sync with one another.

— Senior cellist Clayton Boyd

Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg started to gain international recognition as a violinist when she won the Walter W. Narumburg competition in 1981. From there, her notoriety grew as she received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1983, was named 1988 Ovations Debut Recording Artist of the Year, and in 1999 received both the Avery Fisher Prize and the first honorary Master of Musical Arts from the New Mexico State University.

“Being able to play with Nadja is a really big honor for me and everyone else in the orchestra,” Hendrickse said. We have been given opportunities to work with a lot of people and companies that are more professional in preparation for this, and I know we are all just hoping that it will turn out well and that people come to see the show.”

May 20 was declared “Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg Day” by the San Francisco County, and New Orleans Magazine named her one of the top female achievers in its June 2017 issue. She has been the subject of a Sundance Film Festival film, Speaking in Strings, and has appeared on many radio and talk shows. She has also started her own record label, NSS Music, which features many individual artists and groups.

Throughout her life, Salerno-Sonnenberg has learned a lot about how to live your life as a musician and about her craft itself. She says that this is why teaching and doing shows like this one are so important to her: she has all of this knowledge, and she wants to pass it on. She is currently the professor of violin at Loyola University New Orleans.

“Teaching is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done,” Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg said. “I love the work ethic and education that [Loyola] brings. It is a step above, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

It is her dual role as teacher and violinist that drew her to collaborate with the Mac orchestra for the concert on Saturday Nov. 10.

This show will be different than other Mac orchestra shows. Instead of having a conductor lead the orchestra, the students will have to follow Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg’s lead as a soloist.

Kai Cole, Isabella Demoss, Emma Wood, Iris Horn, Sophia Shampton, Javi Cavazos Weems, Clayton Boyd and Jack Montesinos play on the radio station KUTX 98.9 to promote their concert with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Photo courtesy of McCallum Orchestra Facebook page. Reposted with permission.

“Usually with a conductor, it’s pretty clear cut: when their hands go down that’s the down beat of a measure,” senior violist Sophia Shampton said, “so it’s gonna be a lot easier to get lost if we’re following a soloist. She’s also supposed to be known for taking time and being more dramatic and stuff, so we’re gonna have to be super attentive to keep up with her.”

Boyd agreed that following a soloist requires more attention to detail than being directed by a conductor.

“This experience will definitely be different because it requires all of the orchestra to know all of the music well enough to follow the soloist without a conductor, and it really requires the orchestra to really be in sync with one another,” Boyd said.

To prepare for this performance, the orchestra had Peter Bay, the conductor from the Austin Symphony, come to practice with them. They are also taking class time to look at the pieces for the show while also having to prepare for region and state orchestra competitions.

Teaching is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done.

— Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

“He came to two of our classes during orchestra period,” sophomore violist Cosette Hendrickse said. “I’d say it was definitely a privilege to have him there.”

Since this is such a big show for McCallum, to promote the show they also had a small group play a piece of their show on the radio station KUTX 98.9 FM. They recorded a section from their show on Monday and then spoke a little bit about the performance that they will be doing to try to sell tickets. Their performance was then broadcast by the station the following morning.

The show will take place at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. Tickets start at $22.85 for balcony seats. You may also purchase tickets in the mezzanine and orchestra sections of the audience. Tickets are available online at Proceeds benefit the orchestra program.