Stars when they were young: A soloist bats off predatory maestros

Stars when they were young: A soloist bats off predatory maestros


norman lebrecht

December 24, 2020

We’ve come across TV documentary on Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, made in 1987 when she was in her mid-20s.

Forthright as ever, she talks about the exploiters and sexual predators in the classical music business. ‘I’ve experienced it a few times,’ she says.

Gripping portrait.

Nadja will turn 60 next month. Why don’t we hear more of her?



  • Nijinsky says:

    Of course she isn’t heard more. She plays because music makes her feel alive, not in order to be happy being famous. In fact she’s quite open about the problems being famous can cause, in contrast to others so addicted to it they wouldn’t know. And thus maybe she’s not so defensive of her celebrity status to play the self destructive game while being varnished with marketing to cover up her insecurities. She’s quite open about them, instead.

  • Nick says:

    Wonderful artist, great interview.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    The art of Classical music is similar to the pop genre. Audiences embrace youth and the next New Thing which is unfortunate.

    It’s when some of the younger artists mature and have a more profound musical message that they should be elevated and listened to with fresh ears.

  • DAVID says:

    She’s completely authentic, both musically and personally — and that, paradoxically, is one of the reasons why we don’t hear more of her. She plays the way I suspect she is in real life — without reservation, feeling every single note with complete intensity, and she probably couldn’t care less whether or not some critic might be rubbed the wrong way, because doing otherwise would mean compromising artistic and personal integrity. And that can be a dangerous path to take — even though it very much is a worthwhile path — because most people simply can’t take such a level of authenticity. Most will feel much safer and reassured within the bounds of conformity — and our era, despite what it claims and thinks of itself, is incredibly conformist, almost dictatorial in its fearful allergy to difference. Talents like Salerno-Sonnenberg are extremely rare; they happen perhaps a couple of times a century — the only violinist I can think of today that has a comparable personality (although they are very different) is of course PatKop, but otherwise we remain for the most part within the safe bounds of what is acceptable, though there are extremely talented musicians out there. I also believe that Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg has always had her priorities right and values perhaps keeping a personal balance more than abiding by the requirements of a major solo career, many of which can be destructive to the soul and which ultimately are nothing but exercises in b.s. if not an outright form of slavery, in that one has to relinquish many values and make countless concessions in order to satisfy the requirements involved in the marketing of a major solo career. But she is indeed a consummate artist as well as a fantastic person, and I hope she knows that. That 60 minutes interview was both touching and incredibly refreshing, and I must say I hadn’t had goosebumps from a violinist in perhaps the last 20-30 years. She’s compelling — both as a violinist as well as a human being.

  • Freddynyc says:

    I bet most don’t know that she blows quite well also……

  • violin accordion says:

    I have always been as passionate about NSS as she is about everything she approaches. She never courts fame or celebrity at the expense of art, with integrity and heartfelt extroversion, always appropriate that spreads like wildfire to her audiences and everyone in her orbit.

    Two YT videos I always return to are the performances of Bruch concerto with SNO and Paul Daniel, and as concertmaster/director with her New Century Chamber Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Serenade.

    Inspirational performances that have inspired generations to become equally passionate about music.

  • Karl says:

    I guess I’ve been lucky to hear her play twice. It’s been a while though. Last time was 2014 when she played Bruch with the touring Moscow State Symphony.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Some of the things being written about the late and lamented Ivry Gitlis by Steven Isserlis in other postings on S.D. could also be said about Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, in the sense that there are those who “get” her and her manner of playing and those who do not, and those who do not seem to take that to an extreme of dislike and dismissal. Another similarity is that while both Gitlis and Salerno-Sonnenberg have/had certain stage mannerisms that were uniquely theirs, even heard on radio or in recordings there is a distinctive element to react to. And again, both the stage manner and the pure auditory experience seem to generate those extremes of reaction.

    As I have written somewhere in the past on this blog, I once won a very nice prize when the local Milwaukee classical radio station’s morning quiz played the first 15 seconds of two recordings of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and the first caller who could name both violinists was the winner. It was Jascha Heifetz and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and my prize was two tickets to a Vladimir Feltsman recital. I am not sure who else’s recording of the Saint-Saëns I could have identified so quickly and based on so little. Francescatti for sure, Ricci very likely, perhaps Rabin because I knew his so well, Gitlis if I had known he recorded it.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    It’s easier when you are a lesbian and repelled by men. As for not hearing more, we heard quite enough of her throughout the 1980s, one of those inescapable performers who was never an artist. So she took up conducting.

    • Violin Accordion says:

      Seems like you’re lacking joy in your life.
      You should take up psychological help for your unhappy condition

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “The Nadj” is a marvelous violinist and musician.
    We in the San Francisco area had many opportunities to applaud her artistry when she led the New Century Chamber Orchestra.
    And she is a sweet and lovely person as well.
    We don’t hear more of her because that is her choice! Nijinsky, in a comment elsewhere on this page, I think states NS-S’s viewpoint very well.

  • Fliszt says:

    Perhaps it’s forgotten that a lot of her early popularity had to do with her highly exaggerated stage histrionics – and her clever manipulations of the press through her outrageous comments. Her Tom-boy behavior and obsessive baseball talk made her a favorite of TV talk-shows, which expanded her fan base well beyond classical music regulars.

    • Violin Accordion says:

      Regardless of your sniping, the whole point is that the joy and integrity of her performances rise way above your misery.
      I wonder what you think about “Nige” ?

  • Mary Widder says:

    Salerno-Sonnenberg was an exciting performer to watch, but her recordings were in no way exceptional, and it is not surprising that her career lost its luster over time.

    • Basso Continuoso says:

      Exciting no, boring, often. The super-competent players get so many more chances to perform because they are reliable, but it’s to the detriment of audiences, who get to hear fewer artists as a result. In my concert-going years, I had so few opportunities to hear real artists perform, because there were so many too-frequently appearing players in their place. I did hear Emanuel Vardi, Szymon Goldberg, Victor Danchenko, Aaron Rosand, to mention a few violin or viola masters, but only once each, while I heard the Kavafians, Kashkashians, and NSS many times, and, worst of all, Jaime Laredo, constantly. He was worse even than Isaac Stern. Oh, and Pinchas Zuckerman, another cold fish. I blame the competitions and managements for choosing the cold, competent winners over everyone else, just because they were more marketable. Oh, for the days when who you studied with and what you played were more important than what you won. All competitions should be ended and replaced with festivals.

  • Marfisa says:

    If you want to hear her speaking for herself more recently:
    She has an active and lively career as a musician, just not 100% as a soloist. Sounds like a good life. And I think her playing is terrific.

    • Violin Accordion says:

      And nowhere more exuberant and compelling than in her Bruch with Paul Daniel on YT .
      During her lifetime she has contributed so much more to many, than just music and violin playing