By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old student of Robert Lipsett at
The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, has reached the semifinals of the
14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, a quadrennial
event that is one of the oldest and arguably the most prestigious of music
Armstrong will compete with seven other violinists tomorrow
and Friday in what the competition calls Round II, Phase II; his fellow
competitors include Eric Silberg of the U.S., three Russians, two from Taiwan,
one from Korea and one from Israel. Three violinists will advance to the final
round, which will take place July 27-29.
There are concurrent competitions in violin, piano, cello
and voice. Sara Danshepour is the only American left in the piano portion,
while Matthew Zalkind is the lone remaining American cellist. The first round
of vocal competition will be held Thursday and Friday.
Armstrong 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 concermaster of the American
He is also bucking significant history. No American has won
the violin first prize since Elmar Olivera shared the gold medal with Ilya
Grubert shared first prize in 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, gained Cliburn
instant fame, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover story
in Time Magazine. His 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 competition, the first time he’s been
back since winning in 1958.
Click HERE for the competition Web site.
Photo: Philip Pirolo for The Colburn School
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.