Minnesota Orchestra review: Salerno-Sonnenberg's strings blaze

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Twin Cities Pioneer Press

By Rob Hubbard


The "bad girl of the violin" has grown up gracefully.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg still has plenty of the fire that earned her that nickname back in the '80s. But now she's a boss - heading up San Francisco's New Century Chamber Orchestra - and that might be reshaping her style as a soloist, altering her into someone who chooses collaboration over control, compromises over clashes.

Does that mean that this wild woman has settled down? Oh, certainly not, as anyone who was at Thursday's Minnesota Orchestra matinee can tell you. Salerno-Sonnenberg was as much a live wire onstage as she's ever been, practically sputtering sparks from her strings as she tore into Astor Piazzolla's "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" with the sizzling-hot passion of a tango dancer.

It was the kind of wow-inducing performance able to eclipse everything around it on the program, but guest conductor Robert Spano and the orchestra followed it with an interpretation of Aaron Copland's Third Symphony that could inspire any listener to reconsider the composer's place in the musical hierarchy. If you've forgotten how good Copland can be, this could provide an epiphany.

But first, the Piazzolla, which was a thrill from start to finish, drawing more oohs, aahs and spontaneous applause than you customarily encounter on a Thursday morning. Some of that came from laughing recognition of the snippets from Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" slipped in by arranger Leonid Desyatnikov, as well as the musicians transforming their violins, violas, cellos and basses into percussion instruments. But spearheading the spirit was Salerno-Sonnenberg, bounding, bobbing and weaving her way through the work while summoning up not only urgent adrenalin rushes, but lovely, lyrical melodies of melancholy and wistfulness.

Then Copland's Third Symphony brought the full force of the Minnesota Orchestra's personality to bear, as a big-voiced yet sumptuously subtle ensemble and as a confederation of exceptional soloists and sections. Spano and the orchestra brought out all of the work's warm beauty and made the finale's "Fanfare for the Common Man" powerful but devoid of bombast, proud but not puffing out its chest about it.