Instrumentalist - Viola, Instrumentalist - Violin
Viola player defies definitions
Born in California to a Zimbabwean Ndebele father and a Japanese mother, musician Nokuthula Ngwenyama has spent her life defying other people's definitions of her - playing classical music against her parents' wishes, tackling both the violin and the viola on a professional level and studying more than just music in college (she holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard).

We asked Thula, as she commonly goes by, about finding her passion, tackling new challenges and reuniting with former instructor for her upcoming Fort Collins performance.

How did you first become interested in music, classical music and the viola in particular?

I've loved all kinds of music since I can remember. As a youngster my mother brought me to my older brother's youth orchestra rehearsals. From that exposure I fell in love with classical music. My studies were first on piano, then on violin and later on the viola. The viola appealed to me because of its deep and rich sound.

Your father initially discouraged you from playing classical music. Why and what changed his mind?

My father suffered a kind of disconnect with the idea of me playing western classical music. Given his background it was difficult to understand my passion for it. However, once I received recognition in the field he was much more supportive.

What are some of the major differences for you between playing the viola verses the violin?

Well, obviously the size is quite different. The violin is smaller than the viola. I believe that one can play both as long as one has a good ear and technical control to adjust to either instrument. The viola requires a bit more weight in the string, as it has a slower response time to the violin. Vibrato differences can be gauged by the ear.

You performed on "CHE! A Musical Biography;" what was that project like, and why you did you want to be a part of it?

I was intrigued by the instrumentation and the idea that Miguel Corella had written a biographical suite about Che Guevara. I learned things about him I never knew, like his wanderings in the jungle. We did this project about a year before the film "The Motorcycle Diaries" came out, so that was of no influence. He is a controversial character whose iconic side is most recognized, but the suite brought me closer to his personal struggles and journeys.

You studied with the Fort Collins Symphony's Maestro Wes Kenney as a child, what do you remember about working with him at that time?

He was passionate and demanding of us, always wanting us to put in our maximum effort. We always played wonderful repertoire, and performances were magical. He never wasted time and was always organized with how he rehearsed. I learned a lot from him.

What will you be performing Saturday with the Fort Collins Symphony?

It will be the first time seeing Maestro Kenney in a long time, so I'm looking forward to catching up. We'll be performing Paganini's "Grand Sonata" and Berlioz's "Harold in Italy." Berlioz wrote this piece for Paganini, but after he saw a draft of the first movement Paganini said it wasn't up to his technical standards. In other words, the piece was too easy for him. Berlioz completed the piece anyway, and it has become a major part of the standard repertoire.

Paganini's response was the "Grand Sonata for Viola" - a showcase less for the orchestra than for the instrument. On this concert people have the opportunity to compare both pieces and decide for themselves which leaves the greater lasting impression.
Fort Collins Coloradoan
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