Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Violist of Zimbabwean-Japanese Heritage

Nokuthula Ngwenyama is an acclaimed American violist and violinist of Zimbabwean-Japanese heritage. She is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music whose recorded repertoire will soon be enlarged by two forthcoming releases she has completed on the EDI Records label. Her new website is

"Thula", as she is known to her friends, was born in Southern California on June 16, 1976. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and she was raised in the home of a family friend. Thula's earliest musical instruments were the piano and the violin. She faced resistance at first, as she explains at her original website,

"My father, a Ndebele man from Zimbabwe, discouraged me from the start. 'Why are you playing this white man's music?' he would ask. He didn't understand that this kind of music spoke to me in a way not affected by race."

At 12, Thula switched from violin to viola because she was captivated by the sound of the instrument. The website of the American Viola Society reports:

"Nokuthula Ngwenyama is recognized as one of the foremost instrumentalists of her generation. Her acclaimed appearances as soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician garner great attention, as she plays 'music beautifully, with dazzling technique in the virtuoso fast movements and deep expressiveness in the slow movements (The Washington Post).'

Ms. Ngwenyama came to international attention when she won the Primrose Competition and Young Artists International Auditions - both at age 17. Her debut recitals in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center and in New York at the 92nd Street 'Y' were widely praised, and in 1997 she received an Avery Fisher Career Grant."

The website goes on to say that Ngwenyama graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1996, and that a Fulbright Scholarship enabled her to study at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris.

Ngwenyama's interests in life extend beyond music. She completed a Master's Degree of Theological Studies at Harvard University in 2002, after studying the religions of Africa and Asia. Her original website features an illustrated journal of her first trip to Africa. She met her father's relatives in Zimbabwe and participated in concerts in that country and in South Africa.

EDI Records has released two CDs on which Ngwenyama plays viola or violin and Michael Long plays guitar: CHE!: A Musical Biography, EDI Records 6254 (2004), composed by Miguel Corella of Spain; and J.S. Bach Partitas. EDI Records 6738.

Nokuthula Ngwenyama plays violin, accompanied on piano by Mihae Lee, on the CD Ballade, EDI Records 9259 (2005). The program includes Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45 (24:21) by Edvard Grieg; Claude Debussy's Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) (5:18); as well as Ballade in C Minor, Op. 73 (13:36) by the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912).

Rubinstein Sonatas
is a forthcoming EDI recording on which Nokuthula Ngwenyama joins forces with pianist Jennifer Lim. The works are Anton Rubinstein's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 13, and Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 49. A release scheduled for September 2007 is Il Principe: Courtly Airs and Dances, with Nokuthula Ngwenyama, viola; Michael Long, guitar; and David Brewer, violin.

Ngwenyama has joned the faculty of the Music Department of the University of Notre Dame as a Visiting Assistant Professor. The school's website says:

"Highlights of Ms. Ngwenyama's past two seasons include repeat performances with Christopher Seaman and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa, as well as appearances with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Additionally, she 'fascinated on the viola and the violin during a recital' (The Washington Post) at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society."

Collaborations with chamber music ensembles are also noted at the Notre Dame website:

"Ms. Ngwenyama also enjoys an esteemed reputation as a chamber musician. She frequently collaborates with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and has also worked closely with the Borromeo, Chilingirian, Miami, Orion and St. Lawrence Quartets."

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