Celebrating Nigel Armstrong
It's easy to cast an anxious eye across the nation, the state, the county, even the City of Sonoma, and find an endless list of calamities and concerns to worry about and wrestle with, from the economy to health care, from the state budget to the price of parking tickets on the Plaza, to the lack of run production by the San Francisco Giants.
But there's plenty of time to worry about those things later.
Right now we want to celebrate the spectacular success of a young Sonoman who can't seem to avoid the world's music spotlight as he rides an express elevator to the top floor of a richly-deserved professional career.
We're talking, of course, about Nigel Armstrong, the enormously-gifted violinist who is, as this is written, one of five finalists in the quadrennial Tchaikovsky Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Armstrong is 21, the son of Kristen and Marc Armstrong, and a May graduate of The Colburn School, a prestigious music conservatory in Los Angeles.
Last year he won the silver medal in the Menuhin Competition's Senior Division in Oslo and a second silver in the First International Violin Competition of Buenos Aires. He won the Oslo award after driving with his mother for 26 hours from Paris because flights had been cancelled following the eruption of an Icelandic volcano that filled the skies with ash.
The list of his musical accomplishments is long - and starts early. Nine years ago, he was soloist for Santa Rosa's Baroque Sinfonia. A year later, he was the featured soloist for the Berkley Symphony and the Reno Symphony.
In 2004, Armstrong was the featured soloist and associate concertmaster for the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra's final season performance at Davies Hall.
In 2007, he was the featured soloist for the Boston Pops. The list goes on.
But the Tchaikovsky Competition - which is divided into categories for violin, cello, piano and voice - is the heavyweight event among international music competitions and no American has won the violin gold medal since 1978. The most famous American to win the competition was pianist Van Cliburn, who won the inaugural event in 1958 and is reportedly due to be present for the final round this year.
Armstrong began playing the violin at the age of 5, and progressed rapidly, but he adamantly resists the title "prodigy," although his rise through the ranks of young violinists can certainly be called prodigious. When he was 14 and had just soloed with the Berkeley Symphony, a reviewer described him as, "calm and poised as a veteran ... surprisingly serene."
That may be in part because of the non-pressured support from his parents and his own internal grace.
Armstrong had already survived three rounds of competition when this was written, was scheduled to perform at 8 a.m. Monday and again at 8 a.m. today (Tuesday) in the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonia.
The awards ceremony is scheduled for June 30 and we may not know the outcome until then, but it's already fair to say that Nigel Armstrong is, by any measure, a winner.