Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is one of the best known young violin soloists. Her high-voltage and technically accomplished performances, coupled with her exotic good looks, have made her a hit in guest spots on the Tonight Show and a star attraction in concert halls. Born in Rome to an American mother and a Soviet father, she was encouraged by her music teacher to continue her studies in the United States. At age 8, Salerno-Sonnenberg became the youngest pupil to be admitted to Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. She went on to attend Juilliard, but then stopped playing in her late teens.
"It was a time of thinking and confusion for me," she told the St. Petersburg Times in 1988. But Salerno-Sonnenberg emerged from that period with even more dedication to her instrument at age 19. A year later, she became the youngest winner of the Naumburg Violin Competition at Carnegie Hall. It vaulted her to a new level of critical acclaim. Her colorful personality, lively attire (purple jump suits, gold bolero jackets and gowns) and highly expressive style only serve to embellish her stunning musical ability. She has always pushed the limits and taken chances.
"The critics are not used to a lot of things I do, and that's fine," she told the Times. "Classical music is an endeavor steeped in tradition, which is also fine. But if it doesn't move along with the times a little but, it will become obsolete, which would make me very sad. "I'm not playing the Mendelssohn Concerto like it's been played for a hundred years, but some people just want to hear it that way. I'm young, I dress the way I dress and little things like that can make some of the audience upset. You can't make everyone in the audience happy: I can just do my best and that's it."
Her flamboyance and high profile has certainly helped her draw in new fans. "If I'm in a position with the media to bring in new people into the concert hall, that's absolutely fine," she said. "I get a lot of young people coming backstage after the performances telling me they saw me on Carson and they came to the concert and they like the music and will be back. This is wonderful because they're our future subscribers."
AT A GLANCE Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Monday at 8 p.m., Ruth Eckerd Hall, $15-$22.