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Nineteen strings play joyously to Strathmore audiences

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

Logic would dictate that a solo violinist pulling off an entire concerto with a full orchestra backup would be challenging work for any performer, while a smaller ensemble would offer a pleasant break from that awesome responsibility.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, music director and concertmaster of the 19-member New Century Chamber Orchestra, would beg to differ.

"It's hard work for me," said Salerno-Sonnenberg, who, along with the ensemble, begins a nine-city concert tour starting with Thursday's debut at Strathmore sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society. "Not only do I decide the program and [handle] the work that has nothing to do with being a music director, but then I rehearse them, which is a very democratic process since everyone has a say. Once we have the music prepared, I lead them in concert, since there is no conductor. And I play first violin while leading. There is a lot on me."

Still, Salerno-Sonnenberg would have it no other way, commenting that the orchestra is playing so well and the audiences have been fantastic in their kickoff performances in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they are based.

Onstage
New Century Chamber Orchestra with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Where: Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Info: $35 to $65; 202-785-9727; wpas.org

The Strathmore program is diverse. Classic works are presented -- Mendelssohn's String Symphony and Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor -- as well as rarely heard pieces such as Strauss's "Metamorphosen."

Salerno-Sonnenberg, who begins her sixth year heading up the New Century Chamber Orchestra, is consistently commissioning new works for her ensemble.

Her Featured Composer program highlights a particular work of the chosen composer, followed by the request for a new piece. The idea here is to expand the chamber orchestra repertoire while offering audiences a deeper understanding of today's living composers.

"Another thing I do is have music arranged for us, which also broadens the repertoire," she continued. "For example, in our second season we [performed] Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' arranged for string ensemble."

Whatever the work presented Salerno-Sonnenberg promises great musical interpretation from her group that, in addition to herself, features four first violins, five second violins, four violas, four cellos and one bass.

"The communication that is happening between every other player is palpable," she said. "What you will see onstage is pure joy. These are players that are very happy to be here because they have a stake in the rehearsal process and in the performance. I want people to know that this is the best string orchestra in the United States."

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