, ,

Very Original Instruments

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

After performing a concert together in the 1990s, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad were eager to collaborate again, and when Sérgio expressed an interest in recording a CD of Gypsy music, Salerno-Sonnenberg jumped at the chance.

Little did she know that playing two of the instruments would be so painful.

The recording session in Aspen in July 1998 covered demanding works by familiar composers–Brahms, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, and Ravel–and Salerno-Sonnenberg skillfully integrated her violin, a much louder instrument than the guitar, in a way that achieved the right balance.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

But Sérgio Assad’s setting of the Spanish folk tune “Andalucía “ presented a special challenge.

In the middle of the tune a flamenco section requires percussion, and the three performers had been limited in what they could do with it in concert, but thought that the recording session would enable them to do something special. They wanted to overdub the percussion, but they couldn’t get the right sound. What they tried sounded too tinny.

Studio time was limited, so they had to come up with something on the spur of the moment or leave the percussion out.

Salerno-Sonnenberg made a suggestion.

“If I cupped my hands and slapped them onto the inside of my thighs,” she said, “this might create the right sound because we wanted it to sound flamenco but not tinny. The problem was—thankfully we were all friends—I had to pull my pants down, and here we are in the studio and I literally started doing this takketa-takketa-takketa with my hands onto the inside of my thighs and the producer said, ‘Could you move your right hand down and your left hand up?’”

They kept experimenting until they got the sound they wanted.

“I wound up bruising myself horribly,” Salerno-Sonnenberg said. “I mean, the next day it was just black because I spent a good forty minutes just doing that.”

Related Stories