Nadja Salerno-Sonneberg to perform at Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival |

Nadja Salerno-Sonneberg to perform at Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival

Special to the Daily/Grant Leighton

VAIL, Colorado – On Christmas Day 1994, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was chopping onions.

“I had a lot of people over, and I was going too fast as usual,” she said. “I felt something like a very severe paper cut. I wasn’t looking down, but then I saw.”

She had sliced the tip of her left pinky off.

“You realize in literally a split-second that your life has completely changed, something is clearly telling you that nothing will ever be the same,” Salerno-Sonnenberg said. “I was going to have to do something else with my life. … Playing the violin with four fingers is hard enough. Three wasn’t going to cut it.”

Happily, Salerno-Sonnenberg did return after surgery and two years of physical and mental recovery after that accident – though she did play with three fingers during her rehabilitation – and will perform Barber’s Violin Concerto Wednesday night at 6 at the Ford Amphitheater as the Dallas Philharmonic opens its residency during the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.

“I learned I loved to play,” she said. “I learned I should concentrate on having better balance in my life so that I could continue to play.”

At the time, Salerno-Sonnenberg had been maintaining a vigorous schedule of performances and decided to prioritize. With this reorganization, she is nevertheless a whirlwind of activity.

She has finished a break-neck season touring with her recital partner on the piano, Anne-Marie McDermott, also a Bravo! regular. She has set up her new record label NSS Music (her initials) and completed her second year leading the New Century Chamber Orchestra, which also tours nationwide.

Salerno-Sonnenberg’s leadership of the New Century Chamber Orchestra seems a link the original joy she found in music.

“It’s funny. Of all the moments I think of that were so powerful for me with music, it was always playing with other musicians, and never as a soloist,” she said. “I remember playing in an orchestra and hearing the sound of Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ and (Stravinsky’s) ‘Rite of Spring’ and being blown away by the sound. Playing with other people made a strong impression with me.”

However, it was very clear that Salerno-Sonnenberg was an individual talent when she got a a violin at age 5. At the time, everyone in her family played an instrument, except young Nadja and “my mom wanted to didn’t want me to get a complex or something.”

Salerno-Sonnenberg and her family moved to the United States when she was 8 because that’s where the proper instruction was. Her mother’s musical taste greatly influenced her with the likes of violinist Jascha Haeifetz and pianist Vladimir Horrowitz as well as opera (her grandfather’s favorite).

“When I was very young my favorite piece was (Rimsky-Korsakov’s) ‘Sheherezade’ – cut me some slack,” Salerno-Sonnenberg said with a laugh. “I grew up listening to the recordings in my house, Haeifetz, Horrowitz and opera, and I got in my ear that I would know each individual who was playing.”

Salerno-Sonnenberg is no stranger to Bravo!. She has been appearing in Vail since the mid-1990s. She also studied with Jaap Van Zweden, who will lead the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Wednesday, accompanying her with the Barber Wednesday, at The Julliard School in New York City.

In the meantime, yes, she still chops onions, though she tries to go a little slower.

“I received so many sweet letters after that,” Salerno-Sonnenberg said. “I also got an enormous bunch of gadgets which chop onions, including ones which I never could have imagined. I’ve got a box full of them.”

Staff writer Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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