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Experience the breathtaking mastery of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto when Pacific Symphony welcomes Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, performing a double-role!

December 09, 2013

Singing lines of sweet emotion transform into a joyful and abundantly virtuosic showpiece—Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto—which soars in the hands of electrifying violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who also leads Pacific Symphony from the concertmaster’s chair for the remainder of the program. Esteemed as “the heart’s jewel” by the great violinist Joseph Joachim, Mendelssohn’s concerto is led by Assistant Conductor Alejandro Gutiérrez, who makes his classical series debut during this first concert of the New Year, “Nadja Plays Mendelssohn.” Described as an artist whose talent “will make you hang breathlessly on every note” (Los Angeles Times), Salerno-Sonnenberg stands out for her passionate and powerful sound, her risk-taking musical prowess and her dynamic presence. Apart from being an international soloist, she is also the music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra and founder of record label NSS Music. Salerno-Sonnenberg leads the Symphony in two pieces that emphasize the strings: Rodion Shchedrin’s fiery “Carmen” Suite based on Bizet’s opera and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Prologue and Variations.”

“The Mendelssohn concerto is special because it stands the test of time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I find something new in it every single time I play it. And I have played it thousands of times!” says Salerno-Sonnenberg.

“Nadja Plays Mendelssohn” takes place Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 9-11, 2014, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, and includes a preview talk with Alan Chapman starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$185; for more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

In addition to the concert, Salerno-Sonnenberg is giving a master class (as part of the Symphony’s three-event project, “OC Front and Center”) to three advanced violinists from Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, Chapman University and the adult music community on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, from 2-4 p.m. in the Samueli Theater. The event is free, but due to limited seating, tickets are required. To reserve a seat, please visit www.PacificSymphony.org/tickets/concert/Violin_Master_Class.

“Typically, in a master class situation, I have about a half hour with the student. Not a lot of time, but enough to spot what I think is the biggest element of their playing that needs help,” says Salerno-Sonnenberg. “And that is what I try to do. Hone in on that one thing and try to make a difference.”

Mendelssohn, a musical genius from childhood, wrote some of his best known works in his teens, but completed his last orchestral composition, the Violin Concerto, at age 36, six years after famously hearing the opening line in his mind. He wrote to his friend Ferdinand David, “I would like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E Minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace.” Mendelssohn wrote the three movements to be played attacca, as one continuous flow of music. The sweet melodies and sensitive scoring tug at the emotions, while leaving the audience uplifted by the bravura display of this virtuosic showpiece.

Being the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1983, Zwilich combines skill and inspiration, illustrating a hopeful spirit that gives her a unique musical voice. With a vigorous exterior and ravishing lyricism throughout, “Prologue and Variations” was described by New York Daily News as “a taut and succinct work tackling many deep emotions that all come across with confident expressive authority.”

“If I could only use one word to describe the Zwilich piece, it would be...cool,” says Salerno-Sonnenberg. “I love that it demands everything from a string player...variety of sound, accuracy, rhythmic pulse. It is extremely rewarding to play and to listen to. The ‘Carmen’...well, it’s ‘Carmen’! Maybe the singularly best arrangement I have ever heard. Not only are you hearing all the spectacular tunes from that amazing opera, but this arrangement is ultra moving and exciting. Knocks it right out of the ballpark.”

Born in Moscow in 1932, Shchedrin composed the “Carmen” Suite for his wife, Mayya Plisetskaya, who was the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet at the time. Based on Georges Bizet’s opera, “Carmen,” he created a flamboyant, fun and enduringly popular piece, filled with Spanish dance rhythms requiring four percussionists playing a huge array of instruments, timpani and strings.

Salerno-Sonnenberg is highly regarded for her compelling performances, daring interpretations and dedication to her craft. Her 2013-14 engagements include a five-city North American recital tour with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, and orchestral engagements around the U.S. She leads New Century Chamber Orchestra’s 22nd season which includes the world premiere of Michael Daugherty’s new violin concerto, “Falling Water,” written for her. In May 2014, Salerno-Sonnenberg releases the 11th recording for her record label, NSS Music, an all-commissions CD with New Century Chamber Orchestra, featuring works by Clarice Assad, William Bolcom, Daugherty and Zwilich. In addition, she has hosted a “Backstage/Live from Lincoln Center” program for PBS, appearing in the PBS/BBC series “The Mind,” even talking to Big Bird on “Sesame Street.” She was the subject of the 2000 Academy Award-nominated film, “Speaking in Strings,” an intensely personal documentary on her life, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was released in theaters nationwide and subsequently premiered on HBO’s Signatures channel in 1999.

Now in his second season, Gutiérrez is the assistant conductor for Pacific Symphony and serves as music director of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. He served as associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica from 1998 to 2011, and is the founder and director of the internationally known chamber ensemble “Trombones de Costa Rica.” Gutiérrez has guest conducted for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, the Honduras Philharmonic, the Tatui Summer Festival Wind Orchestra and MIMU Festival Chamber Ensemble in Brazil, the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra in Austin, and Costa Rica’s National Symphonic Choir. Gutiérrez has served as assistant conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Texas; music director of the University of Texas University Orchestra; music director and conductor for the 2011 University of Texas Opera Center production of Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” and prepared the national and international casts of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” for the Costa Rican National Lyric Opera in 2007. Gutiérrez finished his doctorate in orchestral conducting in December 2012 at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation with additional support from American Airlines, The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Thursday, Jan. 9, concert is sponsored by Janice and Ted Smith and the Friday, Jan. 10, concert is sponsored by The Symphony 100.