The New Century Chamber Orchestra—a groundbreaking conductorless string orchestra founded by cellist Miriam Perkoff and violist Wieslaw Pogorzelski—opened its 20th-anniversary season in the San Francisco Bay Area in late September with a spectacular four-date concert series filled with a combination of the old and the new.
This year, to acknowledge the orchestra’s roots, music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg invited past music directors to perform with the latest group of musicians in separate guest appearances throughout the season. The season opened with a vibrant concert series featuring founding music director Stuart Canin, former concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Opera, in performances of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor.
At the Marin Osher Jewish Community Center on the fourth and final day of the opening performances, the 84-year-old Canin, flanked by new members of the same orchestra he helped nurture back in 1991, played with stunning precision, gathering enormous applause at the concerto’s end.
The combination of Mendelssohn’s gorgeous concerto with the return of a longtime friend and colleague made for a poignant moment fraught with melodic intensity.
Audience members murmured among themselves as the members of the conductorless orchestra—adorned with flashy red brooches, flowers, and ties—returned to the stage in the second half, taking their seats and smiling slightly as if they were all holding a wonderful little secret. Adding an unconventional, modern touch of theatrics to the performance transported audience members to another time, somewhere on the cobblestone streets of Seville.
With just a slight change of costume, even the familiar pieces felt like something new, and audience members left the theater humming along to the famous habanera.
“You should have seen what I was going to wear,” Salerno-Sonnenberg joked as she returned to the stage, motioning to her feather headpiece.
With the addition of the vivacious Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, the NCCO’s performances always end with something a little flamboyant and unexpected, and the opening series of the anniversary series was no exception as the orchestra finished off the night with Bizet’s popular Carmen Suite.
The blend of modern pieces, old friends, and unexpected embellishments made for an enchanting evening full of eager anticipation for what Salerno-Sonnenberg has in store for the rest of the season. At press time, former music director Krista-Bennion Feeney was scheduled to join the orchestra in December for a performance of Haydn’s Violin Concerto in G major.
See the full review in Strings magazine