Interview with Nigel Armstrong

Bakitone International is proud to present an interview with Nigel Armstrong, one of the most extraordinary young musicians today. The 21-year-old American violinist has recently been brought to international attention by winning several prestigious violin competitions. These wins include the Buenos Aires International Violin Competition in Argentina, the Yehudi Menuhin Young Violinists International Competition in Norway, and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. Nigel met with Sergei Kuznetsoff to share his impressions about the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition and his experiences during his trip to Russia.

Winning a prize at the Tchaikovsky competition is perhaps, for musicians, the realization of a most desired dream. Since your name will now become part of the history of the Tchaikovsky competition, this prize may be one of your greatest achievements. Was this your first time in Russia? Please share your impressions of this trip with us.


Yes, it was my first time in Russia and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to experience this great land and culture. My only wish was that I had had more time to spend exploring the cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow! Taking part in the Tchaikovsky competition was a dream in and of itself and I feel very fortunate to have received a prize. I will always look back on those three weeks with fond memories--I learned so much from my fellow competitors as well as from the jury and it was inspiring, to say the least, to make music in Russia’s hallowed halls.

During the first Tchaikovsky competition in 1958 when Americans Van Cliburn and Daniel Pollack took major prizes and premiered Samuel Barber’s Sonata, Russians first discovered American culture and composers. Before, the competition, the censorship of the Soviet government banned even Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, who immigrated to the West. In 1958 the competition had slightly melted the Cold War anger and connected people of conflicted countries through music. The times have changed; it’s a global world now although Russian audiences still are not very familiar with American music. The Tchaikovsky competition management has successfully attempted to introduce new contemporary compositions in order to expand the horizons of the standard competition repertoire. How did you feel audience perceived the music composed specifically for this competition? Please tell us about the piece.


I’m happy to say that I thought John Corigliano’s STOMP--a rip-roaring homage to American fiddle music--went down very well with the competition audience. (And it was put to the ultimate test: only rarely does a new work get to be performed a dozen times over two days!) In his piece, Corigliano captures the mood and idioms of old-time fiddling, from it’s driving rhythms to languid slower passages. It’s both fun to play and exciting to listen to. And then there’s the stomping! I can’t say I’ve ever before played a piece that requires the performer to vigorously thwack the stage in time to the music. Learning the piece was a great experience and I’m glad the competition supports such musical adventurousness.

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