By Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

First and foremost: Know the opera. Not just the music, which is very, very popular, but the story as it unfolds. And then be sure to understand the meaning of the aria you are playing. “The Flower Song” (which is the tenor aria) is absolutely beautiful, but it is important to understand that he is desperate when he sings this. His emotion must somehow be executed through your bow.

The huge challenge with this work is that it includes percussion. A lot of percussion. So the preparation is quite different than preparing a work written for just strings. Obviously, balance is a challenge, but also the communication with the percussion section, because they are quite far away. I perform this work without a conductor. I lead from the concertmaster chair. I am sitting. Just having the proper eye contact with the musicians in the back is a challenge very often. I don’t usually have any problems communicating my feelings about any given piece, but because of the number of musicians onstage for this work, the challenge is mostly keeping the ensemble tightly together.

“His emotion must somehow be executed through your bow.”

I am very passionate about this particular work. It is not very often that an “arrangement” is as powerful as, or even in some aspects more powerful than, the original. But here the themes are presented with a more primal purpose. In a sense, although hard to believe, this version is more dramatic. It’s Carmen—everyone knows and loves this opera. I have a great love for the opera but also beyond that, I had played both solo violin versions of it: the popular [Pablo de] Sarasate version and the less-played and more-challenging Waxman version.

Most importantly, it is a ballet. Shchedrin wrote this arrangement for his wife, the great Maya Plitseskaya. The thematic material is all there, but with far more emphasis on the rhythmic aspect. This work should be performed by absolutely everyone as if they were soloists. It’s almost not an orchestral work.

I’d absolutely recommend this work to other players! It is difficult but in the best way—the kind of music everyone enjoys rehearsing. It doesn’t feel like practice or work because the fun factor is extremely high.