The icy weather forced Saturday evening’s concert to be rescheduled for Monday (January 9th) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, but it did not dampen the spirits of violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who led the Oregon Symphony in a vivid performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Standing in the center of the all-string ensemble, Salerno-Sonnenberg took on the role of soloist and conductor- chief-inspirer, firing up her colleagues with intensity and immaculate playing that was focused, highly nuanced, and filled with brilliant articulation even on the fastest passages. The attention to detail and dramatic scope also applied to the treatment that Salerno-Sonnenberg and forces gave to Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite” (after Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen) , which rounded out the second-half of the program.
Salerno-Sonnenberg has a big following in Portland. She has appeared with the orchestra many times, and her many fans showered her with cheers right from the first moment that she stepped onto the stage. That she rearranged her schedule to accommodate the delayed performance spoke volumes about her generous character.
repertoire, you would think that the musicians might have shrugged and turned in a ho-hum performance, but Monday night’s concert was anything but that. You could hear flowers blooming, winds blowing, birds singing as if it were happening right in the concert hall – and that was just for the “Spring” movement. The other movements were equally evocative with the sun blazing, slashing rain, insects buzzing about, farmers dancing, hunters and their hounds, and frigid snow.
Salerno-Sonnenberg employed an amazing array of movements to convey the tempos and sudden attacks, motioning with her head and shoulders, turning to the violins or to the violas and cellos as needed. She achieved a mind meld of sorts with the orchestra and that made the music so tangible . Several duets and trios involved Salerno-Sonnenberg and violinists Sarah Kwak and Inés Voglar Belgique, violist Joël Belgique, and cellist Nancy Ives. Ives wonderfully anticipated her subtle changes in tempo in many extended passages that featured just the two of them.
After intermission, a chamber ensemble consisting of the orchestral strings and percussion gave a splendidly sensitive interpretation of the “Carmen Suite.” This time, Salerno-Sonnenbergj led from the concertmaster chair (with Kwak next to her). She would indicate starting tempos with her hand and used body language (or an occasional free hand) to signal important cutoffs to the percussionists. The battery (including Niel DePonte, Michael Roberts, Sergio Carreno, and Jonathan Greeney) played a vast array of instruments with immaculate precision. The famous melodies from the opera were delivered in unusual ways (for example, the low strings used pizzicatos to play the toreador song) that tickled the ears.
It was a good thing that the orchestra’s president and CEO, Scott Showalter, mentioned in his introduction that the next day was her birthday. So, the after her final bow, the orchestra and crowd serenaded her with a rousing and heartfelt Happy Birthday. That was a great way to cap off the evening.