Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will perform Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor with Seattle Symphony Orchestra May 18-19, 2012. Also on the program: Mozart's Requiem. Gerard Schwarz will conduct.

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There will be grand forces in the second half of Seattle Symphony’s program this week, as conductor laureate Gerard Schwarz leads the orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Chorale, bass-baritone Clayton Brainerd, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby and soprano Jennifer Zetlan through Mozart’s shrouded-in-myth Requiem Mass in D minor.

Staging for the first half will be considerably more spare, yet rich in Seattle Symphony history. Virtuoso violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who made her debut with the orchestra in 1984 and returned repeatedly to work with then-new music director Schwarz, will play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.

An important and beloved staple in violin repertoire, the concerto helped solidify a Seattle fan base early in Salerno-Sonnenberg’s career and appeared on her first professional recording, conducted by Schwarz. The two have returned to it again and again in different cities and settings.

“We have performed this piece together so many times it feels like playing chamber music,” says Schwarz. “As if the orchestra is a chamber ensemble, she’s the first violinist and I’m just an intermediary, a part of it all.”

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Salerno-Sonnenberg says she approaches Mendelssohn’s popular piece “with reverence. I’ve played it since I was 10 and still feel exactly the same inspiration. You know what’s coming, what’s going to happen harmonically, you know what it feels like. It’s nothing new from the first time.

“It’s like a marriage where you stay in love forever.”

Schwarz’s comparison of his collaboration with Salerno-Sonnenberg to chamber music is certainly felicitous. Besides maintaining a full concert schedule as a soloist and running her own record label, NSS Music, since 2005, a very demanding but rewarding part of Salerno-Sonnenberg’s career these days is serving as music director of the exciting San Francisco-based New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Founded in 1992, NCCO today is a 19-member string ensemble sans conductor. Salerno-Sonnenberg took the reins in 2008. She sets the tone for this often-electrifying group when playing, but her larger job is to raise its international profile.

This was not a professional development the committed soloist was seeking.

“I did one gig with them, sitting in the concertmaster’s chair,” Salerno-Sonnenberg says. “I had 19 musicians just glued to me. This was very novel, and I loved the experience. It was apparent we needed to work out my full involvement somehow. But it was like an unplanned child, nothing I’d wanted to do. Yet I wanted to bring all my experience, whatever influence I had, to putting this extraordinary orchestra on the map.”

Toward that end, Salerno-Sonnenberg released a DVD, “On Our Way,” this month through NSS Music, celebrating that orchestra’s 20th anniversary.

“When you have your own label, you just do what you want,” she says, noting NSS includes jazz, vocal and guitar music as well as her own and NCCO’s most recent recordings.

“I’m very busy, what can I say? I have God-given energy and good health. I do admit I ask myself two or three times a day, what the hell are you doing?”

Tom Keogh:

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