Some critics have suggested that her media image is contrived, but world-renowed violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg showed temperature, flair, and a passion for music before publicity became a part of her life.

Already a virtuoso at the age of 17, she moved from Philadelphia to New York to attend the Juilliard School full-time and suddenly felt free– too free. “I cut classes,” she recalled, “fell in love, snuck into Yankee Stadium. It was a year full of wonder. I learned an enormous amount about life, but nothing about playing the violin.” For seven months she stopped playing the violin entirely, stopped bringing her violin to her lessons, preferring just to talk with her teacher, the distinguished Dorothy DeLay.

Then DeLay issued an ultimatum: Take the violin seriously or get another teacher. Salerno-Sonnenberg set her sites on winning the presigious Walter W. Naumberg International Violin Competition, which gave her just three months to overcome seven months of inactivity. She practiced 13 hours a day. She won first prize in the competition.

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By her mid 20’s she had become a celebrity, first praised and then disparaged by critics because of her informal concert attire and tough demeanor. By the early ’90’s she was beginning to burn out, and she considered quitting the concert stage.

Then, in 1994, while chopping an onion for a Christmas dinner, she cut off the end of her left little finger. The accident and her painstaking recovery from it forced her to focus on what she wanted to do with her life. “In retrospect,” she said later, “the accident wa a blessing… I started to play again, and that’s how I realized how much I loved to play. Now everything is a joy. Things I wouldn’t have even considered doing professionally, I jump right in.”

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