Nadja Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

my thoughts

    This page is...I've decided, where I get to spew and share my opinion. I'll change it as often as my schedule allows and sometimes maybe, even sooner depending on how I am feeling about "stuff". I'll tell you now that it will rarely be about music or playing the violin except for the times when it is. I invite you to spew and share as well. For an archive of my previous opinions, click here. Email


    You know how many of us ... well, most of us actually are always complaining about the fact that we don't have enough time? That we're too busy? That there never seem to be enough hours in the day? Well, aside from complaining ... what do we actually do about it? If you're like me: you just go ahead and make yourself even busier. And why is that? Is it because we are crazy? Do we feel we are in some sort of competition? If at the end of our lives we can then say, "Look at all I have done; look at all the brownie points I have amassed?"

    That's one way to look at it I suppose. But here's another.

    Life is something like an amusement park. So much to see, so much to do, so much to experience. And since we all have to pay that entry fee, we might as well experience all that the amusement park has to offer. That's how I look at it.

    Maybe there's one ride that we enjoy -- and so we ride that ride over and over again. Good enough. But there are other rides as well. And many of those rides scare us -- tempting as they seem. What if we had the courage and the wisdom to try every ride in the park? What if: at the end of the day we can honestly say, "I tried it all, I did it all, I missed nothing."

    I'm guessing that at least we wouldn't feel cheated. And in that vain ... perhaps we would go home satisfied and content and maybe even ... a little proud.

    In my own amusement park, I have decided to try a new ride.

    I am going to be a music director.

    The first time I played with the New Century Chamber Orchestra was in September, 2007. It was the first gig of my new season. They are a conductorless chamber ensemble, and so my preparation for this venture was very different than what I am used to. Yes, I would play a violin concerto with them and have to lead that from my usual soloist position -- I have done that before, no problem. But there was the rest of the program as well. I would sit from the concertmaster position and lead this orchestra for a full two hours. THAT I have never, never done before.

    And so I practiced and practiced because, honestly, I had no idea if I could pull this off. And quite frankly, I am not keen on feeling embarrassment -- it is not an emotion I enjoy.

    So I prepared and prepared and prepared and prepared. And as I was preparing, I thought to myself two things: thank god I don't have to do this all the time because, honestly, it's too much work. And also I thought: I wonder, I really wonder what this experience is going to be like.

    Allow me to explain something to you.

    I have for over 25 years as a professional stood in front of major symphony orchestras and played concertos. The conductor was always there to lead the orchestra, and even though I always knew the orchestra score (what everyone else is supposed to be doing), it really wasn't my responsibility to control them or inspire them. But now, I had this gig coming up where I knew full well that the entire ensemble would be looking to me for leadership for every single note, every single crescendo, every single accelerando -- in short, everything that happened musically and visually ... for the entire concert.

    So the time came, I packed my bags and went to the airport as prepared as I could possibly be -- and yet not knowing what would happen. Kind of exciting for someone like me after all these years of performing.

    In the first rehearsal, I didn't know if I should make a speech or go up and introduce myself to each player -- really I was kind of lost. Again, a new experience. I decided to just start the rehearsal. I said "Tchaikovsky," and all the musicians looked at me for the downbeat cue. My stomach was tangled up. I hate giving cues. I'm no good at it. But you know what? We all started together, and that was encouraging!! I played and moved and made my intentions clear enough I suppose for these musicians to come along on this ride. And within 5 minutes of playing, I started to get the feeling that I could do this.

    Then we stopped for some reason -- to rehearse something. And something new happened. Everyone started to speak, almost at the same time. Everyone had an opinion about how the passage should go. And I thought: "Oh lord, what am I supposed to do now? I am here for this period of time to lead them in these series of concerts, so should I tell them to be quiet and listen to me? But they must always do this...not having a conductor and all....maybe I should let them speak their minds. They seem to be enjoying asserting themselves."

    I watched, and I listened. And then the principal cellist pointed out that we had not played the correct rhythm in the opening phrase. And trying to look cool and non-plussed, I looked at my part and realized she was right.

    And I also realized that this was my fault. They followed me, and I was wrong.

    And that's when I felt this great, great kinship with these musicians -- and when I knew how much I could learn from them. I have been performing for so many years -- but from a totally different viewpoint. And I thought to myself, "This is a completely new way of looking at the notes on the page, Nadja -- with a completely new responsibility towards those notes."

    And I was excited.

    We rehearsed alot. ALOT. And in the interim I got to speak with all of them, get to know them, exchange recipe's, find out what works best for the common cold, eat a few doughnuts and banana's, and try to figure out how to start my rented Prius.

    We played four concerts. What I felt onstage was 16 souls attached to me in every way conceivable. And every single note that we played was full of vibrancy and meaning and excitement and tenderness and purpose and everything that makes music so damned intoxicating to begin with, that we devote our entire lives to the pursuit of bringing those notes on the page to life. We prepared together, and we brought that to the audience together and shared our enthusiasm with them. There was nowhere else any of us wanted to be during those concerts and no other purpose for being alive. Just the pure joy of playing music for people.

    Do you have any idea what a gift that is in a business replete with, well, business?

    They liked me, I liked them. They asked me to be their new music director, I accepted.

    It was just another gig for me -- and now it has changed my life. The New Century Chamber Orchestra is made up of 16 musicians who are all soloists and artists. Just like me.

    We have decided to be a team. And I vow to you and to them that I will do everything in my power musically, personally, and professionally to bring this ensemble to new heights in every way possible.

    This is the new ride I have decided to take. It will be a roller coaster for sure. Right now, we are all in our seats, buckled in, ascending that first big hill with excitement and childlike anticipation of the ride to follow. All I can say is, "Watch out -- here we come!


    NSS Music

    ©2008-2001 Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg