“Mother of Peace and “Lion” in Zulu, Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s performances as orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber musician garner great attention. Gramaphone proclaims her as “providing solidly shaped music of bold mesmerizing character.” As a composer, Uptown Magazine featured her “A Poet of Sound.”
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.’ A recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, she has performed with orchestras and as recitalist the world over.
Recent highlights include joining the Emerson Quartet at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and the premieres of Rising for Solo Multitrack Violin and Pedals and Primal Message for Viola Quintet – performed with the Dover Quartet and jointly commissioned by the Phoenix Chamber Music Society and Chamber Music Northwest. Her first viola concerto, commissioned by Christopher Biggs and Irene Marquez Biggs and recorded with the Janacek Philharmonic, is to be released on Peace Mama Productions (PMP) fall 2021.
Ms. Ngwenyama joined violinists Jaime Laredo and Pamela Frank, cellists Sharon Robinson and Keith Robinson, and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt in January 2020 for the premiere of Sexagesimal Celebration in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Phoenix Chamber Music Society. Additionally, she recorded both Brahms Sextets with the same ensemble and forms umama womama with fellow composers and instrumentalists Valerie Coleman-Page and Hannah Lash, which debuts and premieres a jointly written trio commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, Phoenix Chamber Music Society, and Clarion Concerts in the 2021-22 season.
This season, Ms. Ngwenyama collaborated with Daniel Bernard Roumain on ASU/Kerr Cultural Center’s show Tuning Up in a multi-disciplinary discussion around BIPOC issues and classical music. Her work Finding the Dream, commissioned by John Clements and written in response to the murder of George Floyd and Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech, will receive its world premiere with the Phoenix Boys Choir through joint digital emission with ASU/Kerr Cultural Center and the Colburn School. Primal Message for percussion, harp and strings, an homage to the Arecibo message, received an orchestral world premiere with the Detroit Symphony on their digital DSO series. Bella Hristova premiered her work Miasma for solo violin – largely based on Covid-19 proteins – on the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis Laureate Series in March 2021.
Ms. Ngwenyama has performed at the White House and testified before Congress on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). An avid educator, she served as visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. She also served as director of the Primrose International Viola Competition and is past president of the American Viola Society. She curates Composer’s Choice, a co-production of ASU/Kerr Cultural Center, Phoenix Chamber Music Society, and Peace Mama Productions (PMP). It features 21st century music and its creators from the concert hall to television, game and beyond in a chamber music setting.
Born in Los Angeles, California of Zimbabwean-Japanese parentage, Nokuthula Ngwenyama (No-koo-TOO-lah En-gwen-YAH-mah) studied theory and counterpoint under Mary Ann Cummins, Warren Spaeth and Dr. Herbert Zipper. She also appeared on Sylvia Kunin’s Musical Encounter series bringing music to inner city schools, including as soloist with Dr. Zipper and his orchestra. She is a Crossroads School graduate and alumna of the Colburn School for the Performing Arts (now the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts). As a Fulbright Scholar she attended the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris and received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University. While an undergraduate at the Curtis Institute of Music her theory and counterpoint teachers included Edward Aldwell, Jennifer Higdon and David Loeb. She is the first composer in residence of the Phoenix Chamber Music Society and plays on an Antonius and Hieronymus Amati viola from 1597, on permanent loan from the Biggs Collection.