Monday, January 17, 2011

Nokuthula Ngwenyama, 2: 'I was just thrilled when I was chosen as the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence for the year!'

[Nokuthula Ngwenyama]

Violist and violinist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, whose website is, has been featured at since 2005. AfriClassical interviewed her by phone on Jan. 13, 2011. Part 1 of the interview appeared Jan. 15. Today we present Part 2:

Wow! Well of course, sometimes people call you because a volcano erupts in Iceland!
Yes, that happens too!
Is it Harold in Italy that you did on short notice?
Yes! In Cincinnati!
You sure got great reviews on that one!
Oh thanks! Well, you know, it always feels good to come in the hero at the last minute! People, I think, are very appreciative when you do that! But also, with something like Harold in Italy, it's just part of the standard repertoire. I think if you are a professional, you have to know that! Certain pieces at least that I've played, if someone needed me to perform it tomorrow, I could do it! And that's one of those pieces, so...
Well, I can see why they called you then!
I was happy that I was able to be there, in the right place at the right time to help and to enjoy the performance! They are such a great orchestra – it was really a lot of fun!
Of course, that seems to have been a step on the way to your Duncanson residency!
Yes, well you know, Cincinnati is really a very musically and arts-minded town!
Historically speaking as well! And when I played there, somebody heard me and knew about the Duncanson Artist-in-Residency Program, and knew that they were looking for a classical musician for that year. So they strongly recommended that they contact me, which they did, and they explained the program and so I submitted materials, and I was just thrilled when I was chosen as the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence for the year! So really, I guess it did turn out to be a stepping stone to that position. It was great to spend a couple weeks in Cincinnati going to schools, playing multiple recitals around the city, doing a lot of outreach, doing a lot of talking, working in the Museum as well. It was really a great experience!
It looked like they got their money's worth out of you!
Oh, they definitely worked me hard, but you know, it's something for the community, and I really think the program is wonderful, and I was happy to be out in the community doing all that kind of outreach and working with kids and all that. I think it's a really important thing that we have to do!
I noticed that you said it was a special pleasure to be able to honor the connection between African Americans in music and other fine arts?
Absolutely! I think that that's something that really is not part of mainstream knowledge, the contribution that African-Americans have made to the fine arts in this country or around the world! We just don't hear about it that much, and so when I became acquainted with Duncanson and his work, I just was blown away, especially given the time in which he lived and when he was actually able to flourish as an artist, and so I think celebrating that connection, being part of that legacy was a really wonderful thing for me to be a part of, and to show other people in the community that this legacy has been long-rooted in their community, and it continues to this day and is a part of their cultural heritage, was really important. I think it sheds light on things that should be mainstream and hopefully will become more mainstream, as people become more aware of these contributions.
Well I was very happy to write about it because it gets right to the heart of the message that is the focus of the blog.
Yes, absolutely!
Something else that you did just a year ago, involving classical music and diversity, you were a Sphinx Competition Juror I believe for 2010?
Yes, and that was the second time I'd actually served as a Juror for the Sphinx Competition.
Apparently you had an interesting pair of fellow performers while you were in the Detroit area; you performed with Sanford Allen and Anthony Elliott?
What was that like?
Oh, my gosh! Well you know obviously their reputation precedes both of those people!
Everyone told me what amazing players they were!
They were telling the truth, weren't they?
They were! So when we sat down to play, I was just blown away! Tony Elliott has such a beautiful rich sound, he's very musical, very sensitive! And Sanford plays like an angel! I mean, he has such a cantabile! He has a very distinct voice; he plays with incredible sweetness, incredible control. I was really just blown away playing with them! Actually, since then, Sanford has his Leef Peepers series in New York?
So he invited me up to play with him this past Fall.
I was able to play with him some more, and he's one of my favorite musicians to play with! I just love being able to spend time with him, talking with him about his experiences. I think that it's a very important connection for me to have. He's walked the walk, in a major way!
I believe he was the first permanent instrumentalist of African descent in the New York Philharmonic, wasn't he?
Yes, he was! But what's kind of hard to see though, today, is that I don't really see those numbers changing all that much in orchestras around the country, you know? I wish we could see a bigger increase in diversity in orchestras! We know the players are out there!
Yes, this is the 14th Sphinx Competition starting in a couple weeks, so the effort has been made for more than a decade, almost a decade and a half now, and I agree with you, we don't seem to have moved the needle very far!
No, they're not really reflecting that, so that's something that we need to kind of look at more deeply, and just keep pushing in the right direction!

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