By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Nigel Armstrong performed a sensitively nuanced rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in today in the final round of the 14th Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia. The 21-year-old student at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles was the first of five competitors who will each play the Tchaikovsky and one other concerto in the final round, accompanied by Conductor Nikolai Alexeev and what was announced as the “Honoured Team of Russia Academic Symphonic Orchestra of Saint-Petersburg Philharmonie.”
Armstrong’s tempos were on the leisurely side (except for the final measures), which isn’t easy to do in a competition, but his performance was sensitively drawn through all three movements. The second movement seemed particularly soulful, while the third movement was quite clean in execution. To no one’s great surprise, Armstrong displayed impressive technical chops in all three movements (all five competitors will have that ability). Alexeev and the orchestra appeared to accompany with great care.
• The television klieg lights appeared to make things quite hot onstage; Alexeev not only toweled himself with a handkerchief after the first movement but fanned himself, as well.
• The order of play in any competition is always a crapshoot. Playing first means the orchestra is at its freshest but the jury has to be on top of their collective game to accurately assess the soloist. With two concertos each, that issue is somewhat less significant than it would be if they played just one piece.
• For several jury members, this is the first time they will have heard the finalists. The 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) — has been 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).
• At age 21, Armstrong is the youngest of the five violin competitors. Two of the other finalists are age 22 and two are 25.
• Armstrong will play his second concerto, the Prokofiev 1st, tomorrow morning at 8:45 a.m. (PDT). The competition has been available via Webcast (LINK), although it’s sometimes difficult to access (the piano competition is the default; I had to type “violin” instead of “piano” in the URL to get to the violinists — ditto for any of the other segments).
• Each finalist had to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; the second concertos were an interesting mix, far more so than the pianists. Among the violinists, Sergei Dogadin of Russia followed Armstrong with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. At 9:40 a.m. (PDT) today, Jehyee Lee of South Korea will play the Tchaikovsky, followed by one of the more unusual choices, the Berg Concerto, to be played by Itamar Zorman of Israel. Tomorrow at 8 a.m., American Eric Silberger will play the Tchaikovsky Concerto immediately preceding Armstrong in the Prokofiev 1st and Dogadin in the Tchaikovsky. Wednesday’s order opens with Lee in the Bartok Concerto, followed by Zoman in the Tchaikovsky and Silberger concluding with the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Of the five pianists, all are playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 (they could have played No. 2 but almost no one ever does). For their second concerto, three are playing Rachmaninoff’s third (the concerto that Van Cliburn played when he won the inaugural competition in 1958), one is playing Chopin’s 1st and the fifth is playing Brahms’ 1st.
• Following their performances, 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 in Moscow. 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.
• Here’s a LINK to my story about the semifinals.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.