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Tchaikovsky finalist Nigel Armstrong to play with L.A. Chamber Orchestra

January 19, 2012 | 11:20 am

Violinist Nigel Armstrong, who won fourth prize in last year's 14th International Tchaikovsky Competition, will make his debut with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra this weekend.

Armstrong, 21, a graduate of the Colburn School Conservatory of Music, will play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major in concerts Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and Sunday at UCLA's Royce Hall. The program, which will be conducted by principal cello Andrew Shulman, also includes Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A major and Walton's Sonata for Strings.

LACO booked Armstrong before he gained attention at the Tchaikovsky, the prestigious quadrennial competition held in Russia. Music director Jeffrey Kahane says he first met Armstrong several years ago when Armstrong, who is from Sonoma, played for him at his home in nearby Santa Rosa. "I was enormously impressed," he recalls.

Last spring, Kahane asked a friend at Colburn if she knew any students who could perform a Mozart concerto with the orchestra. "She told me there was a young violinist named Nigel Armstrong and I said, 'Oh, I know Nigel!'" 

Kahane and concertmaster Margaret Batjer arranged to hear Armstrong play. "We were just knocked out," Kahane says. "Great Mozart playing is the most demanding kind of playing there is. Every single note is exposed and has to be perfect in so many ways, has to be felt and thought and cared for. He's one of many violinists with technique to burn ... but to find that depth of musicianship in a young person is very unusual."

At last summer's Tchaikovsky contest, Armstrong's fourth-place finish made him the highest-ranking American in the violin category. (No gold medal was awarded.) Aided by a bit of behind-the-back bowing, he also won a prize for his rendition of the commissioned solo piece "STOMP" by John Corigliano.

Armstrong, who graduated from Colburn last year, is in the diploma program at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has performed in the United States and abroad, including a 2007 appearance with the Boston Pops Orchestra. In 2010, he received silver medals in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in Oslo and the International Violin Competition Buenos Aires.

"I've been fortunate to get to know Jeffrey Kahane over the years," Armstrong says. "My father contacted him, out of the blue, and he was kind enough to listen to me. And now it's a great honor to play with his orchestra."


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-- Karen Wada

Photo: Nigel Armstrong. Credit: David Fung.