(Revised) NEWS AND LINKS: Colburn School student reaches finals of Tchaikovsky Violin Competition

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily


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


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 Andrs Crdenes, 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 lives in 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.

For a story in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, click 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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