Alumni Reconnect: Donald Armstrong – First Ever Composition Winner, 1972

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Chamber Music Contest, so CMNZ is spending plenty of time connecting with Contest Alumni members. Our Alumni Correspondent Salina Fisher has been delving deep into the 50-year history of the Contest, and will be sharing many Alumni stories for you in the coming months as we celebrate an important year for the Contest.

Salina Alumni Correspondent Salina is a composer and violinist who recently finished her Postgraduate Diploma in Composition at the New Zealand School of Music. She was in the winning group of the Contest three times (2007, 2008, 2010) as a violinist and pianist, and is composing a piece for the Mimosa Ensemble’s Encompass Regional tour in July. Here, Salina blogs about Donald Armstrong’s 1972 composition, ‘Quintet for Strings’…

This week I caught up with Donald Armstrong – well known as the NZSO’s Associate Concertmaster, but he is also the Contest’s first ever composition winner. He very kindly came in to share his beautiful score that he submitted for the Contest back in 1972, ‘Quintet for Strings’, and told me a bit about it:

Donald Headshot 2On entering the Contest

“I think I was twelve or thirteen when I wrote it – I was in the third form. I had a wonderful teacher at Wellington Boys College, Denis Smalley, who encouraged me to write this piece and said “why not enter it in the Contest?” At the time, there was no ‘Composition Section’, but I entered this piece and they begun a Composition Section the year after – and 40 years later it’s still going!”

About the piece

“The early 70’s were all about free expression, and anything you like could be called ‘music’, so I just thought of fun things to do! One part asks the double bass player to roll marbles in the inward curve on the side of the instrument. I remember performing this with a group from my school, and three of us went on to become professional musicians! One of them is Peter Barber, who is a violist in the NZSO.”

Click on the photos below to take a closer look at the score:

Donald in the Contest! (third from right, front row) donald - bach players   Share your thoughts on this composition and this story with us below…

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