One of the most supportive and forward-looking things San Francisco Performances does every year is to schedule a concert by the most current winner of the prestigious Naumburg Award. A New York-based international foundation that sponsors the competition hands out the prize on a revolving basis to individual string players (violinists, violists, cellists), pianists and vocalists. San Francisco Performances has been presenting these promising young artists since 1978 in showcases that are considered the West Coast equivalent of the two concerts the winners get at Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center.

This year's winner is a 23-year-old Kentucky-bred violinist by the felicitous name of Tessa Lark, who is apparently just as adept with her bluegrass fiddling as she is with her Mozart, Bartók and Bach. If her name rings a distant bell, that might be because you are still dimly aware that she was in San Francisco once before as a 19-year-old student from the New England Conservatory of Music, when she walked off with the first prize in the Irving M. Klein International String Competition in 2008.


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Lark takes the stage at the Herbst Theatre on Saturday night, accompanied by pianist Renana Gutman, to play a varied and demanding program, opening with the Sonata No. 4 in E minor by Eugene Ysaye, followed by the aggressive, intense Bartók Sonata No. 1. After an intermission, she will play Mendelssohn's Sonata in F major and a transcription for violin of Claude Debussy's lovely "Claire de Lune," closing with Henryk Wieniawski's Variations on an Original Theme.

San Francisco Performances subscribers are admitted free to these annual concerts, but they are priced at a modest $25 for the general public. It's a great chance for you to catch up-and-coming talent at a bargain rate. Concert time is 8 p.m. at 401 Van Ness Ave. Call 415-392-2545 or go to www.performances.org for tickets or information.

NAUMBURG PLUS THREE DECADES: If Lark is in town the day before her recital, she might want to stop in Friday morning at the Herbst Theatre, the very venue where she will perform, to catch what one of her Naumburg Award predecessors is up to. Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a 1981 awardee who went on to an acclaimed international career as a soloist, will be working with her New Century Chamber Orchestra at a 10 a.m. open rehearsal of the program the group will be taking on the largest concert tour they have ever mounted together. Now in her fifth year as music director and concertmaster of the San Francisco-based string ensemble, Salerno-Sonnenberg is making good on a goal she expressed when she took on the assignment back in 2008. Noting with pleasure how well-regarded the New Century Chamber Orchestra was in the Bay Area at that time, she insisted, "They should be more known, more in demand and more respected. I have a job. I want to put them on the map."

Building upon the success of a 2011 East Coast tour that did indeed put them on the map, the 19 members of the ensemble are embarking on a Jan. 18-Feb. 2 national trip with concerts scheduled in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and Michigan. They'll doubtless be taking with them copies of the two CDs they have made on Salerno-Sonnenberg's NSS Music label, 2009's "Together," and 2010's "LIVE: Barber, Strauss, Mahler."

Their concert program is built upon several of their signature pieces, and it will be vigorously polished up with two Bay Area performances before they leave -- first at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Herbst Theatre and then a repeat at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Menlo-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts.

William Bolcom's Romanza for Solo Violin and String Orchestra, written for the chamber orchestra when he was its featured composer in 2009, is a linchpin of the program, as is Richard Strauss' intense and tragic "Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings," which has no doubling of parts by any of the players. Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 10 and Heitor Villa-Lobos' Aria from the "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" complete the program.

Tickets for the concerts, $29-$59, are at 415-392-4400 or www.cityboxoffice.com.

Contact Sue Gilmore at sgilmore@bayareanewsgroup.com