Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

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Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Born (1961-01-10) January 10, 1961 (age 57)[1]
Rome, Italy
Genres Classical
Occupation(s) Musician, author
Instruments Violin
Years active 1986–present
Labels EMI, Nonesuch, NSS Music
Website Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (born January 10, 1961) is an Italian and American classical violinist and teacher.

Early life and education[edit]

Salerno-Sonnenberg was born in Rome, Italy. Her father left when she was three months old.[2] She immigrated with her mother to the United States at the age of eight, relocating to Cherry Hill, New Jersey.[3] She studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and later with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School of Music [4][5] and the Aspen Music Festival and School.[6]


In 1981, she became the youngest-ever prize winner in the Walter W. Naumburg International Violin Competition.[1] She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1983, and in 1999 she was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize for "outstanding achievement and excellence in music".

In 1994, Salerno-Sonnenberg badly injured her left little finger while chopping onions in the kitchen; she was making Christmas dinner for friends and family. Her fingertip was surgically reattached, after which it took six months to heal. During that time, she refingered pieces for three fingers and continued to perform.[1][7][8]

After her finger healed, she became depressed. In 1995, she attempted suicide but the gun failed to fire.[7]

In 1989, she wrote Nadja: On My Way, an autobiography written for children. In May 1999 she received an honorary Master of Musical Arts degree from New Mexico State University, the university's first honorary degree. She is also the subject of Paola di Florio's documentary Speaking in Strings, which, in 2000, was nominated for an Academy Award.[1]

In 2003, Salerno-Sonnenberg performed the world premiere of Sérgio Assad's Triple Concerto, a work for violin, two guitars and orchestra with the Assad brothers and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[7] The same work, called "Originis", was recorded in 2009 with Salerno-Sonnenberg, the Assad brothers, and the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo.[9]

Salerno-Sonnenberg has released many recordings on Angel/EMI Classics and Nonesuch. In 2005, she also created her own label, NSS Music.[3] She has performed with orchestras around the world and played at the White House. She has also performed with such popular artists as Mandy Patinkin, Joe Jackson, and Mark O'Connor. She has frequently collaborated with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.[10]

In 2008, Salerno-Sonnenberg was selected as the Music Director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra under a three-year contract. After completing her first season with the orchestra, Salerno-Sonnenberg stated: "I also have a solo career that I have to maintain -- and I do. And I have a record label. I have three full-time jobs, and I don't know how long I can keep up this pace."[8]

In 2013 it was reported that American composer Samuel Jones was writing a violin concerto for Salerno-Sonnenberg.[11]

In 2015, Salerno-Sonnenberg joined Loyola University New Orleans as a Resident Artist.[12]

Salerno-Sonnenberg has continued to perform with various symphonies, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Seattle Symphony, as well as at festivals like Wolf Trap.[13][14][15][16]

Salerno-Sonnenberg plays a Peter Guarneri violin called the "Miss Beatrice Luytens, ex Cte de Sasserno".[10]

Critical reception[edit]

In 2006, The Washington Post characterized Salerno-Sonnenberg as a "fiercely original, deeply emotive violinist". Over the 25 years she had already been concertizing, "her playing, always mercurial and exciting but occasionally a little scattershot, has become positively reliable, both musically and technically, without losing any of the wild electricity that always set her apart." The only criticism the reviewer made of her interpretation was "her characteristic tendency to break up the melodic line into fragments".[17]

Some reviewers criticized the clothes she wore during performances, her facial "grimaces", and her "almost abandoned disregard". Critic Martin Bernheimer said that Salerno-Sonnenberg was "battling the composer rather than interpreting the composer."[1] Another critic disagreed: "I don't care what she wears or how she moves as long as she keeps playing with such passionate intelligence."[18] Fans have found her performances "exhilarating". In 2004, Salerno-Sonnenberg said she answered "hundreds of fan letters a year" on her website.[1]

In later years, some critics, who had originally been irritated by Salerno-Sonnenberg's on-stage mannerisms, said they "no longer bother" them. Although still complaining about some of her interpretations, the critic nonetheless called her a technical virtuoso.[13]

In other media[edit]

She was a guest several times on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and was also featured on 60 Minutes in 1986. In May 1999, 60 Minutes II aired a follow-up.[1] In 2001, she appeared as herself on the sitcom Dharma & Greg in the episode "Dream A Little Dream of Her".


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Burch, Cathalena E. (January 9, 2004). "Controversial, maybe; talented, certainly". AZ Daily Star  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ Guregian, Elaine (April 9, 2003). "Violinist uses the healing power of music to find peace". Knight Ridder Newspapers  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Vallongo, Sally (February 15, 2007). "Violinist relishes role as record-label chief: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg launched NSS Music in '05". The Blade  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  4. ^ Fujimorie, Sachi (November 10, 2011). "A Gifted Violinist Returns Home to N.J. for a Debut Performance". The Record  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Bergen County, New Jersey. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  5. ^ Sayegh, Paul (September 3, 2006). "Maverick violinist takes on a chestnut". The Virginian-Pilot  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  6. ^ Performance Today. "Memories of Aspen". Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Freed, Gwendolyn (January 17, 2003). "KEY CHANGE; A prodigy who struggled with severe depression, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is on a higher, happier plateau now, her aim made truer by music and the violin. She performs with the guitarist Assad brothers this weekend". Star Tribune  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Scheinin, Richard (May 10, 2009). "Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg reflects on her first year with New Century Chamber Orchestra". Oakland Tribune  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  9. ^[dead link]
  10. ^ a b Reel, James (August 1, 2007). "A New Beginning". Strings  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  11. ^ Keogh, Tom (April 29, 2013). "One Last SSO Concert for Samuel Jones". The Seattle Times  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Battey, Robert (March 8, 2014). "A Mixed Take on Russian Composers". The Washington Post  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  14. ^ Huizenga, Tom (October 21, 2013). "Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg Soars with Passion of Prokofiev at Wolf Trap; at Wolf Trap, Violinist Reconnects with Works That Helped Launch Her Fame". The Washington Post  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to Give Concert at Uga Feb. 2". State News Service  – via HighBeam (subscription required). January 17, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  16. ^ Keogh, Tom (May 18, 2012). "Violin virtuoso Salerno-Sonnenberg at home with Seattle Symphony, Mendelssohn concerto". The Seattle Times  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  17. ^ Page, Tim (November 10, 2006). "Salerno-Sonnenberg: An Excellent Adventure". The Washington Post  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  18. ^ Delacoma, Wynne (July 28, 1986). "A 'fantastique' violinist Salerno-Sonnenberg brings freshness to summer fare". The Chicago Sun-Times  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved July 27, 2014. 

External links[edit]