Sonoma prodigy and prodigal son Nigel Armstrong has come a long way since his days as, at age five, one of the Little Fiddlers of Sonoma. The violin virtuoso, emerging international talent, will play one hometown gig this year, Sunday, May 11, at Jacuzzzi Family Vineyards.
The 3 p.m. program includes pieces by Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Mozart.
Called “an astonishing talent with exquisite technique” by the Chicago “Tribune,” Armstrong will be accompanied by Miles Graber on piano. Presented by the Sonoma Classical Music Society. $10-$35. 24724 Arnold Drive. Sonomaclassical.org.
In advance of his concert this weekend, The Sun caught Nigel in a reflective mood.
SUN: What comes to mind when you look back at your Sonoma childhood?
Nigel Armstrong: Many fond memories. I remember playing on Leta Davis’ porch and backyard with my fellow Little Fiddlers. (Leta was, and is, the teacher of the group.) It was great to make music with them, especially on those Sonoma late-spring evenings when the frogs are just starting up their chorus in the creeks. Another image I have of Sonoma is the thick morning fog; for a while I would bike through it to classes at the high school. Going down Second Street swathed in mist was magical.
SUN: As you’ve grown older, has your feeling for certain composers or pieces changed?
NA: Over the past few months I’ve started to appreciate more and more the profundity of simplicity. I feel I’ve often lost myself in complexity for its own sake, whether in virtuosic displays or by playing pieces that try to say more than can be immediately understood. Ashokan Farewell, a fiddle tune by Jay Ungar, and Debussy’s Clair de Lune are two works that I’ve enjoyed playing recently. They both, in my opinion, go straight to the heart.
SUN: Who or what are some recent influences on your work?
NA: I’ve been reading many writings by Thich Nhat Hanh, a monk originally from Vietnam, since last October. That was when a friend gave me a book of his, “You Are Here,” that I find covers many profound issues in a beautiful way. Though he doesn’t write much about music, his work has influenced me profoundly. I’ve started to think more about the value of what I do, about music’s role in the journey through life that we’re all on.
SUN: Share a few of your favorite classical music venues, and what it was like to play there.
NA: I feel very fortunate to have played in Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón back in 2010. The hall is lush, both visually and acoustically. Even the foyer is a work of art, with a domed ceiling made, I think, of stained glass.
SUN: You’ve already had a relatively long and intense career. What drives you?
NA: I’ve been driven by my enjoyment of performing and of exploring different cultures and traditions throughout the world. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had. I appreciate more and more how rare it is to have the chance to see so much by the age of 24. And to have the support I’ve had in pursuing an aspiration.
SUN: You’ve traveled around the world. What’s it like coming back to Sonoma?
NA: It’s very nice for me to re-connect with my childhood memories. I also enjoy going hiking on the Overlook Trail or in Bartholomew Park. Sonoma’s a beautiful town and I’m glad I got to grow up here.