Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg fires up Milwaukee Symphony audience

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Elaine Schmidt

Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg wore her heart on her sleeve at Friday morning's Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert and received a standing ovation in response.

Salerno-Sonnenberg joined the MSO and music director Edo de Waart with a deeply expressive performance of the Bruch Concerto No. 1 for violin and orchestra.

The violinist has, since her appearance on the concert stage in 1981, earned both praise and criticism for the highly expressive, fiery performances that have become her signature.

Salerno-Sonnenberg showed Friday morning's MSO audience why her take-no-prisoners style reaches audiences: honesty.

She played the piece's most delicate musical phrases with an earnest tenderness, shaping them into exceptionally eloquent statements. She also brought a powerful energy and commanding execution to the piece's most technical moments, demanding and winning rapt attention.

She was so consumed by the energy of the piece that she bobbed and nodded her way through the orchestral sections between her solo lines, unable to stand still as the music swirled around her.

De Waart and the MSO served as an extension of her energy and expressive style, moving seamlessly from full-orchestra sounds to moments that resonated as intimate chamber music.

Salerno-Sonnenberg and the orchestra answered a vigorous standing ovation with an exquisite encore performance of Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise."

De Waart and the orchestra filled the program's second half with a beautifully rendered performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"), handling the well-loved piece with a gravitas and dignity that translated into a powerful performance.

They brought a clarity of thought and sound as well as a simmering energy to the piece, sculpting the piece's most poignant moments with a light hand and never hurrying or abandoning themselves to the piece's biggest moments.

Elegant English horn solos from acting assistant principal oboist Margaret Butler, grand, pealing brass lines and richly textured, beautifully shaped string lines were all part of a strikingly powerful performance.

The program opened with Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral," a captivating work built of ethereal musical statements and shimmering sounds, including the gentle ringing sound of dozens of Chinese medicine balls.