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Tickets now available: Santa Cruz Symphony kicks off with an intimate showcase at Cabrillo Samper Hall

Presented by Santa Cruz Symphony

October 3, 2021 at 2 p.m. marks the first “Spotlight on the Symphony Recital” with a live performance at Cabrillo’s Samper Hall. Concertmaster Nigel Armstrong is joined by guests artists Audrey Vardanega on piano and Saul Richmond-Rakerd on cello.

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The much-anticipated return to live performances will kick off with the special recital showcasing of the Santa Cruz Symphony’s Concertmaster, Nigel Armstrong, at the Samper Hall at Cabrillo College.

He will be joined by pianist Audrey Vardanega and Cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd for an afternoon of great music in an intimate setting.

“The entire Santa Cruz Symphony is preparing for our return to live performances following a year that tested our tenacity,” said executive director Gary Reece. “This first recital will prove that we can make it through adversity and come out even better for it. We know you will be amazed by these three talented musicians, including the improvisational skills of violinist Nigel Armstrong.”


Nigel Armstrong is emerging as a dynamic and creative artist both within and beyond classical music. From his musical beginnings as a member of “The Little Fiddlers” in Sonoma, CA, to collaborations with tango musicians in Argentina, he’s enjoyed using the violin in a versatile manner throughout his life.

Nigel Armstrong
(Santa Cruz Symphony)

As a soloist, Armstrong has performed with orchestras such as the Dusseldorf Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, YOA Orchestra of the Americas, and the Boston Pops, and with conductors including Sir Neville Marriner and Carlos Miguel Prieto.

In 2010, Armstrong received the 2nd Prize, the Ole Bull Prize, and the Nordheim Award at the Menuhin Competition Senior Division in Oslo, Norway. Highly decorated, he received the 4th Prize and the Prize for the Best Performance of the Commissioned Work (STOMP, by John Corigliano) at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition. His concerts have taken him across the US and abroad as a chamber musician--highlights have included opportunities to share the stage with the Tokyo String Quartet and pianist Jonathan Biss.

Armstrong feels fortunate to have had the chance to explore great orchestral literature throughout his career. Since 2009 he’s appeared as concertmaster with the Colburn Orchestra, LA’s American Youth Symphony, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, and most recently, the New York String Orchestra in their annual Carnegie hall performances.

A graduate of the Colburn School and the Curtis Institute of Music, Armstrong’s teachers have included Arnold Steinhardt, Robert Lipsett, Zaven Melikian, and Donald Weilerstein. He also recently had the opportunity to live with and learn from the Plum Village community founded by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He spent a year working on their organic farm and taking part in their daily life, an experience for which he continues to be grateful.


Audrey Vardanega
(Santa Cruz Symphony)

has been praised as a "[musically] eloquent” (San Francisco Classical Voice) player “with the kind of freedom, authority, and strength…that one expects from the world’s finest pianists” and a “bewitching musical presence” (The Piedmont Post).

Vardanega has performed as a solo and collaborative pianist across Europe, China, and the United States. She has received instruction from notable artists including Leon Fleisher, Thomas Adés, Gidon Kremer, Robert Levin, Miriam Fried, and Jonathan Biss. She currently studies piano with Richard Goode.

She is the Founder and Artistic Director of Musaics of the Bay, a nonprofit chamber music series dedicated to music mentorship in the Bay Area. Highlights include her participation in Argentina’s New Docta Music Festival in August 2019, her two-part Beethoven Piano Sonata Project at the Berkeley Maybeck Studios, and the launch of “Musaics of the Bay”, a concert series and mentorship initiative founded by Vardanega in the Bay Area.


Saul Richmond-Rakerd is a San Francisco-Based cellist. He began his cello studies at the age of 9, back in his hometown of Okemos, Michigan, and continued to study it alongside piano until he concluded high school. He attended college at Brown University, where he completed a dual major, with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Physics and Anthropology.

Saul Richmond-Rakerd
(Santa Cruz Symphony)

However, cello remained a passion for him throughout his university years. He continued to play as principal of the Brown University Orchestra, as a soloist, and with several chamber music groups during his time there. After graduating from Brown, Richmond-Rakerd decided to immerse himself in music full-time. In 2013, he attended the Castleton Music festival and moved to Florence, Italy, to pursue a Biennio di Violoncello and play professionally as principal cellist of the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana. He moved to San Francisco in January 2015 to begin a Master of Music degree at the San Francisco Conservatory under the tutelage of Jennifer Culp – a degree that he completed in December 2016.

Throughout his career, Richmond-Rakerd has enjoyed playing in a wide range of settings. He has played as a soloist with the Okemos Symphony Orchestra and the Brown University Orchestra and in numerous recitals, both in the US and abroad. He was also a finalist of the San Francisco Conservatory Concerto Competition in 2016. Other musical awards he has received include First Prize at the Barbara Fritz Chamber Music Award (2016), First Prize at the Luigi Boccherini Chamber Music Competition in Lucca, Italy (2016), Second Prize at the Dorothy Van Waynen Competition for Strings (2016), Primo Arco Premio (2014), Weston Prize for the Arts (2013), and the Buxtehude Premium Prize in Music (2012).

Richmond-Rakerd has been a member of many chamber groups, traditional and non. He currently performs with Luminance, a cello-harp-trumpet trio drawing on latin, classical, and jazz roots, and he was a founding member of both the Capitoline Trio and Quattro alla Volta, a cello quartet with whom he performed during his time in Italy.

He greatly enjoys playing in symphonic settings as well, and has played with many different orchestras throughout his career in music. He currently serves as assistant principal cellist in the Santa Cruz Symphony and as a section cellist with the Monterey Symphony, and is a regular substitute with many other orchestras throughout the Bay Area.

About the Santa Cruz Symphony

Established in 1958, the Santa Cruz Symphony’s celebrated partnership with Music Director Daniel Stewart has earned a reputation for presenting world-renowned performers, innovative programming, and electrifying performances. A community-leading organization, its mission is to inspire, educate, and engage its audiences through artistic excellence, exceptional musical performances, and varied activities that celebrate and enhance the cultural vibrancy of our community. For information, visit