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Violinist Nigel Armstrong’s got the world on a string

World-class wine and food aren’t the only exports for which Sonoma is known – it’s also the hometown of internationally acclaimed classical violinist Nigel Armstrong.

Armstrong returns to the Sonoma spotlight on April 23 at Vintage House, for a Sunday performance as part of the Sonoma Classical Music Society’s current season.

“I’m looking forward very much to being back in Sonoma,” says Armstrong, 27, “In many ways the more I see of the world the more I appreciate having had the chance to grow up there – it’s a special place.” And it is in this special place, where Armstrong flourished.

He began playing violin at age 5, studying under Leta Davis as part of the Little Fiddlers – a children’s string instrument troupe. By the age of 12, he had made his solo debut with Santa Rosa’s Baroque Sinfonia and he never looked back.

Armstrong left Sonoma to study at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He has studied under celebrated violinists Arnold Steinhardt and Donald Weilerstein, among others.

Today, he performs concertos, showpieces, and chamber music to audiences around the world and serves as concertmaster of the Santa Cruz Symphony. Prior to that, he was concertmaster for the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, the Colburn Symphony and the New York String Orchestra’s annual Carnegie Hall performances.

Armstrong’s work has been recognized with awards from the International Tchaikovsky Competition (which some call the Olympics of classical music), where he became the highest ranked American prizewinner; and the Menuhin Competition in Oslo, Norway, the world’s leading competition for young violinists.

In his young career, he has performed with the likes of the San Francisco Symphony, Boston Pops, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Dusseldorf Symphony, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, among others.

The virtuoso’s Sonoma audience can anticipate a dynamic performance on Sunday. Armstrong will perform alongside his longtime friend, pianist Elizabeth Dorman.

“We will present a program of what are, in my opinion, some of the great works from the classical tradition,” he says. Their performance will include Brahms’ Violin Sonata #2 in A Major, Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B flat Major, Debussy’s La Plus Que Lente and Clair de Lune, and Ravel’s Tzigane.

While Armstrong is passionate about the work of classical masters, he lights up when discussing contemporary artists who are making their mark.

“We’ll be starting out with a piece by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt who developed quite a powerful and unique style,” says Armstrong. “His piece, ‘Fratres,’ is meditative with moments of fire as it builds in intensity.” Fratres is considered by many to be the contemporary composer’s flagship work. Pärt is the world’s most performed living composer.

When Armstrong’s not performing with the Santa Cruz Symphony, or traveling the world, he considers Philadelphia his home base. After wrapping up his spring performances, Armstrong will teach in Florida and North Carolina for the summer. But, like so many native sons and daughters, no matter where they wander to in the world, for Armstrong, “Sonoma still feels very much like a home.”

Nigel Armstrong returns home to perform Sunday, April 23 at Vintage House in Sonoma at 3 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults, $25 for members of the Sonoma Classical Music Society, and $10 for students. Tickets available at Readers Books, Pharmaca, Vintage House, at the door and at sonomaclassical.org.