Crown Heights

Nick Armstrong conducts his final concert with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra 

June 16, 2023 Lucien Clough
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EASTERN PARKWAY — After 32 years with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra (BSO), Maestro Nick Armstrong is stepping down from his role as artistic director and primary composer. Jokingly referring to himself as “The Brooklynite with the weird accent,” Armstrong is a long-time teacher, composer, and violinist originally from Bursledon, England. His final performance as Director of the BSO took place last Sunday at the Brooklyn Museum, where the BSO is currently in musical residence. 

Nick Armstrong. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra began with Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s rhythmically stunning Andalucia Suite (1927), before moving into the lush, sweeping Antinous and Hadrian Suite (2013) by Clint Borzoni, a New York-based composer who was in the audience. Pianist Huizi Zhang accompanied the orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 (1785), chosen for its intricate and fast melodies that Armstrong hoped would challenge his musicians. The orchestra finished with Dvorzak’s Symphony No. 8 (1889), a long-favored standard in the orchestra’s repertoire. The mix of sounds, eras, and cultures of the pieces resulted in an extremely engaging concert that bristled with beauty and liveliness.

Over the course of his time as artistic director, Armstrong developed the BSO into what it is today, pushing both its size and ability with a consistent repertoire of challenging and unpredictable pieces. “When I joined the orchestra…[it] was [a] stereotypical community orchestra—mostly retired dentists and old ladies,” Armstrong says. “We have a huge number of younger people now…who trained professionally, so they’re looking for a good space to play and keep their skills going. I think I’ve created that environment and I’m proud of that.”

Nick Armstrong spent 32 years with the BSO. Brooklyn Eagle photo by Lucien Clough.

Armstrong’s long history with the orchestra makes leaving after three decades bittersweet. He refers to the BSO as a family and community first, joking that he’s been playing with them longer than some of the members have been alive. “They’re a wonderful group,” Armstrong said in an interview with the Eagle. “Everyone is really committed, and making music is a real privilege for all of us.” Despite this, Armstrong feels that now is the perfect time to make a graceful exit. After years of being kept in Brooklyn by the orchestra, Armstrong longs to travel again and potentially move back to Europe. “I fell in love with Venice while working at the opera house forty years ago, and I’m still in love with it. I’d love to go back to it,” he said. Armstrong also sees his departure as a chance for the BSO to grow and expand; “After 30 years, I think it’s good for the orchestra and good for me for new blood to come in.”

Armstrong will not be gone forever, however. He is set to return next June to conduct the same concert for the orchestra’s 50th anniversary and plans to stay close while the group looks for a new artistic director. Until then, he plans on forming a small string chamber orchestra with a mix of current BSO members and other musicians and continuing his work with a piano trio that he’s been playing with for the last year. 

Though Armstrong’s days as artistic director may be over, his many years of leadership, commitment, and talent have brought the BSO to new heights. His legacy will continue in the community and family that he was able to foster with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

ON THE RECORD: See the one-on-one here with Nick Armstrong.

 


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