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Walking on A.I.R.

Violist ecstatic over being named Taft’s Duncanson Artist-in-Residence

By Brian Baker · October 27th, 2010 · Onstage
As it stands now, there is barely any free time in the schedule of violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama. The married mother of two is a world-class instrumentalist and teacher with a constantly full slate of concert appearances and recording sessions, and the juggling necessary to balance it all could be considered just another of her many skills.

Those skills will be put to the test when Ngwenyama comes to Cincinnati for a two-week whirlwind visit, the result of her being named the Taft Museum’s 2010 Duncanson Artist in Residence.

“Earlier in the year, I played with the Cincinnati Symphony, and later I came back in June to play a recital at CCM,” says Ngwenyama from her home in Phoenix. “People had heard me at both events and said, ‘Why don’t we recommend you for the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence?’ It sounded like a really wonderful thing, so I submitted materials and went through the interview process and was chosen. I’m just thrilled, because I love Cincinnati and I can’t believe I get to go back three times in one year.”

Ngwenyama becomes the 24th recipient of the Duncanson residency, a program that was established in 1986 as a tribute to the relationship between African-American artist Robert S. Duncanson and his patron, prominent Cincinnatian Nicholas Longworth, and to honor the accomplishments of artists of African American heritage across the broad spectrum of the creative arts. Ngwenyama, of Zimbabwean/Japanese descent, will be utilizing her full range of talents during her residency, giving public performances, conducting workshops and performing educational outreach during her two-week stay in the city. (Her public schedule is available at www.taftmuseum.org.

“I’ll be doing an all-day residency at the SCPA, family concerts at the Taft and some teaching and listening to students at CCM,” Ngwenyama says.

“I’m doing something with the Nouveau Chamber Players, possibly something with Classical Revolution, I’ll be at the Finneytown school, and there’ll probably be a couple other things planned. The Taft has me going pretty much every day.”

Ngwenyama’s stunning achievements make her a perfect fit for the Duncanson residency. At 17, she won the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Ultimately she graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music, then moved onto the Conservatoire National Superieuer de Musique de Paris as a Fulbright scholar and earned her Master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard. The acclaimed violist has performed across the country and around the world, served as a visiting professor at Notre Dame and Indiana University and is the current director of the Primrose International Viola Competition and president-elect of the American Viola Society.

After hearing about the Duncanson residency, Ngwenyama did some research into the program and was intrigued by the Longworth patronage of Duncanson’s work and the recognition of an African-American artist at a time when racial divisions were not only clearly defined but legally enforced.

“I started looking at that relationship and thinking about what it must have been like at the time that it was established and to think how amazing it was at the time that Longworth would commission Duncanson for so many different works,” Ngwenyama says. “I thought it was neat that there’s this connection between the high arts, so to speak, and African-American artists that was established in this country from this time period. It’s really great to be a part of that legacy, even though I’m a musician, not a painter.”

Along that line, Ngwenyama might just have an appropriate surprise when she arrives in Cincinnati for her Duncanson residency. Her husband, a violin dealer and collector, has just acquired an instrument crafted by Freeman Adams Oliver, a former slave and respected violin maker who opened a shop in Boston after the Civil War and was patronized by members of the Boston Symphony, among many others.

“I cannot wait to get my hands on that instrument,” Ngwenyama says with unrestrained glee. “Yet again, here you have someone who was very successful at the turn of the century, probably a violinist himself, who had a lot of patronage and yet people don’t really talk about him today. So I’m hoping I can play some of the concerts on that instrument, which would be just amazing.”

Ngwenyama is planning a good deal of traditional Classical programming for her concert and recital schedule, but she’s also weaving in a number of works by African-American composers, in keeping with the spirit and legacy of the residency.

“I think it’s really important that we highlight that as well,” Ngwenyama says. “I’ll be playing some works by a living composer named Adolphus Hailstork and the Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and I have some arrangements of some spirituals that I’ve programmed. But I’m going to throw some Brahms and some Kreisler in there; I’m trying to do nice, balanced programs.”

As part of her Duncanson Artist-in-Residence duties, NOKUTHULA NGWENYAMA will host several performances and workshops Nov. 4-14. For her full schedule, visit www.taftmuseum.org.



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