The New Century Chamber Orchestra, one of only a handful of conductorless ensembles in the world, was founded in 1992. The 19-member string ensemble includes San Francisco Bay Area musicians and those who travel from across the U.S. and Europe to perform together. Musical decisions are made collaboratively, resulting in an enhanced level of commitment from the musicians to concerts of remarkable precision, passion, and power. In the 2017-2018 season, British violinist Daniel Hope takes the role of Artistic Partner and concertmaster for the ensemble, bringing new vibrancy and leadership to the orchestra. Hope is preceded by previous music directors Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (2008-2017), Krista Bennion Feeney (1999-2006) and Stuart Canin (1992-1999).
In addition to performing classic pieces of chamber orchestra repertoire, New Century commissions important new works, breathes new life into rarely heard jewels of the past, and performs world premieres. Through the Featured Composer program, the orchestra commissions composers to write new works, with the goals of expanding chamber orchestra repertoire and providing audiences with a deeper understanding of today’s living composers. The orchestra provides insight into the breadth of the Featured Composer’s work by performing a variety of pieces by the composer throughout the season.
Beyond regular season concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area, New Century has toured nationally, with 2011 performances in the Midwest, East Coast, and Southern California garnered record-breaking audiences and national critical acclaim. In January and February 2013, New Century followed with a highly successful eight-state national tour, the largest and most ambitious artistic undertaking in the organization’s history. In addition to touring efforts, New Century’s national footprint has also continued to grow with a rapidly increasing national radio presence. The ensemble has been broadcast over 30 times on American Public Media’s Performance Today, with each broadcast heard on 260 radio stations across the country.
The orchestra has released seven compact discs. The most recent, From A to Z: 21st Century Concertos, is a compilation of four of New Century’s live world premiere performances of its newly commissioned works by William Bolcom, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Clarice Assad and Michael Daugherty. The recording was released in May 2014 on the NSS Music label.
Two additional albums were released on the NSS Music label, LIVE: Barber, Strauss, Mahler, released in November 2010, and Together, released in August 2009. The Orchestra’s first concert DVD, On Our Way, was released in May 2012, and weaves together documentary footage and a live tour concert from a February 2011 performance at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The DVD was filmed by Paola di Florio, director of the 1999 Academy Award-nominated film Speaking in Strings.
Other recordings include a 1996 collaborative project with Kent Nagano and Berkeley Symphony Orchestra featuring the work of 20th century Swiss composer Frank Martin, and Written With the Heart’s Blood, a 1997 Grammy Award finalist, both on the New Albion label. In 1998 the orchestra recorded and released works of Argentine composers Alberto Williams and Alberto Ginastera on the d’Note label, and, in 2004, the orchestra recorded and released Oculus, a CD of Kurt Rohde’s compositions on the Mondovibe label. All of the recordings have been distributed both in the United States and internationally.
Stuart Canin served as New Century’s first Music Director from 1992–1999. Mr. Canin has held the title of Concertmaster at the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, and numerous Hollywood studio orchestras, performing on such films as Schindler’s List, Titanic and Forrest Gump. From the beginning, Mr. Canin set such a high musical standard that New Century immediately won the respect of audiences, musicians, and critics.
A native of Menlo Park, CA, Krista Bennion Feeney succeeded Mr. Canin as New Century’s Music Director and Concertmaster from 1999–2006. She is currently Concertmaster of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center during the summer and Co-Concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s year-round at Carnegie Hall and throughout the summer at the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, New York. During her tenure as Music Director, New Century earned a reputation for musical imagination and versatility.
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg joined the ensemble as Music Director and Concertmaster from 2008-2017, succeeding previous music directors Krista Bennion Feeney and Stuart Canin. As a world-renowned violin soloist, chamber musician and recording artist, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg brought New Century “a new sense of vitality and determination, as well as an audacious swagger that is an unmistakable fingerprint of its leader,” according to Gramophone magazine.
In December 1996, mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade performed at the group’s season opening with a new piece by composer Jake Heggie, entitled On the Road to Christmas, written specifically for von Stade.
In 2000, New Century performed in a multimedia multi-ethnic collaboration with Chinese composer Gang Situ entitled Strings Calligraphy. The composition examines the parallels between string music and calligraphy, the control of the erhu bow and calligraphy paintbrush and musical renderings and the flow of calligraphy on paper. The uses of shape and line—dance, string instruments, and visual imagery—were interwoven as elements of the performance. Chinese characters were projected on downstage screens, as dancers on a platform imitated the shape of the characters.
Sir Simon Rattle conducted the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s 10th Anniversary Celebration concert in June 2002 in a co-presentation with Marin Academy. Only his second time conducting in the Bay Area since 1980, Rattle led the orchestra in music by Elgar, Schoenberg and Mozart.
In January 2008, the New Century Chamber Orchestra performed REWIND at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a sold out special event conceived of and conducted by Paul Haas. The concert traced music backwards in time from the 20th century to the Baroque and featured violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, DJ Mason Bates, and kinetic installation art by Reuben Margolin.