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Published: 2/15/2007

Violinist relishes role as record-label chief

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
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Just because Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg plays the violin better than most anyone in the world doesn't mean that's all she does.

The superstar fiddler and her precious 1721 Peter Guarnerius instrument are due to dance with Tchaikovsky, guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa, and the Toledo Symphony on Wednesday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

It won't be her first appearance in Toledo.

She recalls being hailed as "toast of the town" during her 1996 performance here.

Still, this Classics Series Special Event will reintroduce Salerno-Sonnenberg as not simply a marvelous musician but also as an up-and-coming record mogul.

At 46, she's one of the pre-eminent violinists of her generation with the interest and spirit to dive into crossover music. So far she has collaborated with American composer Marc O'Connor, gypsy guitarist Sergio Assad, and jazzmen Bob James and Keith Jarrett.

But these days, when she isn't playing the violin, she's wearing her new hat as a record mogul, handling every aspect of NSS Music, the label she created in 2005.

"There's hardly any time to learn new repertory," she confessed during a phone interview from her New York City home. "I have to say that what takes up my time is my record label."

Why bother with details from studio arrangements to the design of a CD cover, one might wonder, when there are so many established labels eager to sign her to a contract? After all, Salerno-Sonnenberg has recorded on RCA, Sony, Angel/EMI, and Nonesuch, among 20 some companies. She's preserved the big benchmark classical works by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, and Shostakovich, and, of course, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, which Toledo audiences will hear.

But for this native of Rome who emigrated to the United States at age 8 to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, superb musical artistry is balanced by common sense, honesty, gritty humor, and a sense of fairness in her approach to living.

All of those qualities were needed during a single moment a few years ago.

"I walked into a record store. I was looking for some repertoire," she related. "I saw an album with a violin on the cover. It was really tacky. The label said 'the most romantic violin music ... ever'. So, I thought, let me check this out.

"I pick it up and I'm cracking up.

"And guess who was on three tracks?"

There's a dramatic pause on the line.

"So, I'm on a wedding album, but it's not like I'm seeing any checks," she continued. "Here you are, you're embarrassed and you're not even making a nickel."

Now, after 18 months of creating, producing, nursemaiding, baby-sitting, arguing, handholding, and, oh yes, still playing beautifully, Salerno-Sonnenberg likes what is happening, even if the financial picture is still vague.

"I can do anything I want with anything on NSS Music," she proclaims, satisfaction buzzing in her voice. "It's not just a label," announces her new company Web site (nssmusic.com)

Her list so far totals five albums, the most recent a solo album featuring French hornist John Cerminaro playing Strauss, Mozart, Amram, and Gliere. Before that was "Merry," a Nadja-and-friends holiday combo album, plus three solo albums featuring the label namesake and her longtime accompanist, Anne-Marie McDermott.

And one thing you can be sure of, no matter what shows up on the recordings; the mogul will be polite and considerate.

"If I were going to make a tacky compilation CD, I'd at least notify the artist," Salerno-Sonnenberg promises. "Managers, labels, let me tell you something: You are nowhere and nothing without the people you are exploiting."

Still, Salerno-Sonnenberg will be just one of a pair of passionate multitaskers appearing Wednesday.

Leading the orchestra in his Toledo debut will be Guillermo Figueroa, a Puerto Rican violinist and a conductor who is equally involved in dual career tracks.

Figueroa is a founding member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, where he is both concertmaster and soloist. With the group he has made more than 50 recordings and regularly commissions new works.

Last week in Lincoln Center, Figueroa and percussionist Simon Boyar premiered a double concerto written for Figueroa by New York composer Harold Farberman.

He is in his fifth season as music director of the New Mexico Symphony in Albuquerque, and the Puerto Rico Symphony, which he is taking on a tour of Spain.

In 2003, Figueroa created and led a comprehensive Berlioz Festival to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Toledo audiences will hear the first performance together for Figueroa and Salerno-Sonnenberg.

The concert will begin with Le Corsaire Overture, by Berlioz; then Fandangos by Sierra, and Britten's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell.

Violinst Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will be featured in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Toledo Symphony and guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets range from $30 to $80. Information: 419-246-8000.

Contact Sally Vallongo at:

svallongo@theblade.com



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