Nokuthula Ngwenyama, viola< Back to artists
Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s performances as orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber musician garner great attention. Gramaphone proclaimed Ms. Ngwenyama as providing “solidly shaped music of bold, mesmerising character,” and the Washington Post described her as playing “with dazzling technique…and deep expressiveness.”
Ms. Ngwenyama gained international prominence winning the Primrose International Viola Competition at 16. The following year she won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, which led to debuts at the Kennedy Center and the 92nd Street Y. An Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, she performs with orchestras and collaborates musically around the world.
As a recent featured guest on American Public Media’s Performance Today she spoke of her career, two world premieres this season and a directorial debut: Rising for Solo Multitrack Violin and Pedals with video featuring choreography by Zimbabwean modern dancer Alexander Mhlanga and Primal Message for Viola Quintet – performed with the Dover Quartet and jointly commissioned by the Phoenix Chamber Music Society and Chamber Music Northwest. Ms. Ngwenyama launches the 18-19 season with the much-anticipated releases of recital album Sonoran Storm (EDI) with pianist Eckart Sellheim and orchestral album with the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra featuring her compositions (PMP). As a touring artist, she will perform Berlioz’s Harold in Italy with the Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestra.
Ms. Ngwenyama has since performed with the Atlanta, Baltimore, and Indianapolis symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the National Symphony Orchestra. She has been heard in recital at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, the Louvre, the Ford Center in Toronto, and the Maison de Radio France. Summer festival appearances include Green Music, Vail, San Diego’s Mainly Mozart, Chamber Music Northwest, Marlboro Music Festival, Spoleto USA, and Burgundy’s Musique et Vin.
Recent highlights include an appearance with the Sinfonietta Cracovia performing Penderecki’s Viola Concerto, and at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and on the People’s Concert Series in New York City with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. She performed with the Phoenix Symphony and Maestro Ignat Solzhenitsyn, gave recitals in Los Angeles and Oakland with the world premiere of Byron Adams’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, and appeared with Bruno Mars on Saturday Night Live. Ms. Ngwenyama also performed at Nexus Hall in Tokyo’s Chanel Tower and the Xi’an Conservatory of Music, where she is a visiting professor. In recent years, she was chosen for the coveted Duncanson Artist-in-Residency at the Taft Museum.
Ms. Ngwenyama’s performance at the White House, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the radio show Performance Today, also featured artists Wynton Marsalis, James Galway and Denyce Graves. She has testified before Congress on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts and is an avid educator, having served as visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and at Indiana University. She is past-director of both the Primrose International Viola Competition and the American Viola Society.
Known as “Thula,” Ms. Ngwenyama has composed since childhood, studying theory and counterpoint under Herbert Zipper, Mary Ann Cummins, and Warren Spaeth. She spearheaded an award-winning string program for Biltmore Preparatory Academy, a public school in Phoenix, Arizona and performed with the Japanese group The Surfing Godzillas as both instrumentalist and vocalist.
Born in California of Zimbabwean-Japanese parentage, Ms. Ngwenyama studied at the Colburn School’s Community School of Performing Arts before attending the Curtis Institute of Music. As a Fulbright Scholar, she attended the Conservatoire National Suprieur de Musique de Paris, and received a master of theological studies degree from Harvard University. While studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, her theory teachers included Edward Aldwell, David Loeb and Jennifer Higdon. She is the first composer in residence of the Phoenix Chamber Music Society appointed in their 57th season. Ms. Ngwenyama’s plays an Antonius and Hieronymus Amati viola from 1597, on permanent loan from the Biggs Collection.