Music as a Mechanism

Anne Akiko Myers provides the charisma and chops for the Monterey Symphony’s 70th anniversary season.

Setbacks, failures and tragedy affect so much of our existence. Music is no exception. The deaths of what seems like a dozen of music’s biggest stars come to mind, as does this spring’s classical concert season in Monterey.

First came the revelation in advance of her April 3 appearance at Sunset Center that maverick violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg battled suicidal thoughts so severe, it nearly ended her meteoric career.

“I was this close to quitting,” she says. “My entire adult life I battled to find a balance between my work and personal life.”

She continues: “After holding [a gun] to my head for an hour, I didn’t say no – I pulled the trigger.” The gun misfired. Two weeks later, she returned to the stage at Carnegie Hall and played a concert so fraught with emotion one observer called it “possessed.”

Then came word her performing partner, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, was in a car crash in Colorado a few days before the two were slated to visit Carmel.

The concert had to be canceled. Anne Thorpe, co-president of the Carmel Music Society, checked in with Salerno-Sonnenberg recently by phone: “She’s fine, and is back to work now.”

Then there’s pianist Vadym Kholodenko, whose electrifying performance with the Monterey Symphony in April was preceded by tragedy. He discovered his two young daughters stabbed to death at the home of his estranged wife one morning in mid-March.

“No one knew if the show would go on,” Thorpe says. “It turns out he wanted to duck all of the concomitant social events in favor of focusing on channeling his emotional distress into the performance.” The incident recalls the so-called Cliburn Curse, whereby terrible things – from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to plane crashes to death from stroke – have befallen three previous winners of the coveted medal. All of these events, while staggering, show a silver lining: In each case, the musicians march on, showing a peculiar resilience for displaying emotional voice and expression through the music, helping the players – and their listeners – to move on and heal.

That odyssey continues this weekend when the Monterey Symphony concludes its season by hosting acclaimed violinist Anne Akiko Myers. The program includes works by Saint-Saëns, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Ravel’s masterwork Tzigane.

MONTEREY SYMPHONY CONCERT VI with ANNE AKIKO MYERS 7:30pm Friday, May 20. Sherwood Hall, 940 North Main St., Salinas. $10-$20. 8pm Saturday, May 21 and 3pm Sunday, May 22. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $10-$76. www.montereysymphony.org, 646-8511.www.sunsetcenter.org, 620-2048.

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