By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Nigel Armstrong’s dream is still alive. The 21-year-old student of Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles today became one of five violinists to reach the finals of the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition held in St. Petersburg, Russia. He and violinist Eric Silberger are the only Americans left in the four divisions (violin, piano, cello and voice) of what is one of the oldest and, arguably, the world's most prestigious competition.
Armstrong also won a special prize (which included 2,000 euros) for his performance of Stomp, a piece written for the competition by American composer John Corigliano. Ironically, the semifinals concluded today on what would have been the 100th birthday of Richard Colburn, whose major financial contributions endowed the school named for him (Colburn died in 2004)
The final round will take place June 27, 28 and 29. The violinists will play in the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonia. The piano finals are in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The cello finals will be held in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and the vocal finals are in the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall in St. Petersburg.
The competitors will then have some nervous nights (and, in the case of the violinists, an airplane trip), as the awards ceremony isn’t until June 30 in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The winners will then perform in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on July 1 and the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall on July 2.
The violin jury — which for the first two rounds has consisted of Corigliano, American violinist Andrés Cárdenes, Martin Engstrom of Sweden, Boris Kuschnir (Austria/Russia), Barry Shiffman (Canada), Sergei Stadler (1982 Tchaikovsky winner) and Victor Tretiakov (1966 winner) — will be augmented in the finals by five big-name artists: Yuri Bashmet (Russia), Leonidas Kavakos (Greece), Anne-Sophie Mutter (Germany), Maxim Vengerov (Israel/Russia) and Nikolaj Znaider (Denmark).
Armstrong has passed through three rounds to reach the finals. In the semifinals (called Phase II, Round II in competition lingo), Armstrong played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, plus the Corigliano piece (Armstrong will be the soloist in this Mozart concerto Jan. 21-22, 2012 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — LINK).
In the final round, all competitors must play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto plus another concerto of their choice (Armstrong will play the Prokofiev 1st). The 22-year-old Silberger will play the Brahms Violin Concerto in addition to the Tchaikovsky in the final round.
A link to Armstrong’s Tchaikovsky Competition profile page, which includes the repertoire for all rounds, is HERE.
Armstrong, who grew up in Sonoma County and lives in Sonoma (LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane is from nearby Santa Rosa), has been building a solid competition resume, having won a silver medal in the 2010 Menuhin Competition's Senior Division, held in Oslo, Norway, and the First International Violin Competition of Buenos Aires. He is co-concertmaster of The Colburn Orchestra and concertmaster of the American Youth Symphony.
Armstrong and Silberger are bucking significant history. No American has won the violin first prize since Elmar Olivera shared the gold medal with Ilya Grubert 1978, although Jennifer Koh shared second prize in 1994, a year in which no first prize was awarded (the rules allow for that to happen; it’s occurred three times in the past in the violin segment and there was no first prize in the 2007 piano competition). Previous violin gold-medal winners include Gidon Kremer and Viktoria Mullova.
The Tchaikovsky International Competition catapulted to worldwide fame in 1958 when Van Cliburn, a lanky 23-year-old Texan, won the inaugural contest. His victory, at the height of the Cold War, garnered Cliburn instant fame, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover story in Time Magazine. Cliburn’s RCA Victor recording of the Tchaikovsky first and Rachmaninoff third piano concertos (the pieces he played in the final round) became the first classical album to go platinum. Cliburn is scheduled to be present for the finals of this year’s piano competition, the first time he’s been back since winning in 1958.
Click HERE for the competition Web site.
A link to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat story is HERE.
Photo: Philip Pirolo for The Colburn School
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.
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