An Interview with Nigel Armstrong

We had a chance to talk with our new concertmaster Nigel Armstrong about playing the violin, why he chose to play with the Santa Cruz Symphony and about his other interests. We hope you enjoy this interview.

Thank you for talking with us Nigel. Can you tell us why you chose the violin?

I was quite interested in the violin from an early age--something about its sound must have fascinated me. Actually Leta Davis, who ended up becoming my first violin teacher, used to live just about across the street from the home I grew up in, so I got to hear her students now and then. Also my mother had a violin in the house so I had early exposure to the instrument. Apparently I asked my parents when I was 4 1/2 if I could start taking lessons!

When did you know you wanted to become a professional violinist?

I think I was seven or so when I first started saying I wanted to be a violinist as an adult--of course, my understanding back then of what it means to be a professional musician was very different from what it is now! Over the years I've had ups and downs in my enthusiasm but for most of the time I've been pretty sure the musician's life is for me.

What other hobbies/interests do you have?

Hiking, running on beaches, learning languages, trying out new tofu dishes.

If you couldn't be a violinist, what would you do instead?

In school I was always interested in math and science. So perhaps a physicist? Hah, at this point I'd have a lot of catch-up studying to go down that career path. On another note, I had the chance to work on a small farm for the 2015 season and I really enjoyed being in nature so much. What farmers do is so important for all of us--I was and would be very happy contributing in that way.

Why did you accept the concertmaster position with the Santa Cruz Symphony?

The orchestral repertoire is vast and beautiful and I felt privileged to have this chance to continue exploring it with great musicians like Danny and the members of the symphony. Also I'm a fan of Santa Cruz and I look forward to getting to know the community better!

What are your goals as a violinist?

I'd like to continue developing in my ability to communicate through music. To that end I'd like to continue refining my technique and exploring repertoire/styles/settings of different sorts. So I guess I'm open to a number of different trajectories, career-wise. Being able to perform as a professional musician is something I'm already quite grateful for.

You've traveled all over the world. What is your favorite place, and why?

Hmm, well here have been some highlights: for starters, Argentina, because of the colorful and fiery culture there! Also Sweden, for its hospitality and beautiful nature. (I was struck by the wild blueberries in the forests.) California's pretty cool, too.

What is your favorite violin piece? Is there a piece that you want to learn that you haven't yet?

I've recently been playing a piece for violin and guitar, Piazzolla's Histoire de Tango, that I've really enjoyed. For years that style of music has resonated with me. Someday, if it works out, I'd like to get a chance to play in Brahms' Nänie, for choir and orchestra. (It's super difficult for the singers, from what I've heard, but also some of the most beautiful music I know of.) Also I'd enjoy playing a show with a rock band.

You played in the Los Angeles subway. What was that experience like?

What really touched me was how many people stopped to listen. I wasn't exactly next to the trains--I played as part of an 11-hour Bach marathon in Union Station's historic waiting hall--but still it was a powerful thing to witness so many people taking the time to listen to the music.

If you could do anything, what would it be?

I'd learn how to safely do a backflip on a trampoline.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I'm looking forward to Saturday's recital and the upcoming concerts as part of the symphony!

Thank you Nigel. We're looking forward to Saturday's recital too!

Nigel will be performing at Cabrillo College's Samper Recital Hall on Oct. 22 at 7:30 pm. For information and tickets, visit

Photo by Jeff Fasano