Sir Richard Armstrong

Sir Richard Armstrong

Conductor

• 1943 1986

Biography

Richard Armstrong is a noted English conductor particularly associated with opera. His musical education is a product of the English college chapel chorus system, where scholarships including music training are given to talented student applicants for participation in daily chapel services through the school term. Armstrong was an "organ scholar" (student organist) for the Chorus of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

After graduating he took a job on the staff of Covent Garden (London's major opera house), where he assisted in the musical preparation of operas. There he was able to work with the conductors Georg Solti on Wagner's Ring cycle, Carlo Maria Giulini on Verdi's La Traviata, and with Otto Klemperer on Beethoven's Fidelio.

In December 1968 he was engaged as assistant music director at the Welsh National Opera to James Lockhart. At this time the WNO was in the course of its remarkable transformation from a local part-time opera theater to a major year-round institution. Armstrong had the opportunity to preside over the major part of that process after he became music director in 1973. Under his tenure, the company performed the first Ring cycles in Wales, important Verdi productions, and a pioneering cycle of five of the operas of Czech composer Leos Janácek. In recognition of his services to the art of Janácek, the Janácek Society awarded him with the Janácek Medal in 1978.

In 1982, he made his conducting debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, and there has also conducted Andrea Chénier, Un ballo in maschera, and Don Carlos. In 1986, Covent Garden invited him to bring his Welsh National Opera company to the stage to present two stagings of the acclaimed Ring cycle, making the WNO the first regional opera company to appear there.

He left the position of WNO music director in 1986, but has continued his ties with them. He is often invited back to guest conduct and has taken the company on tour to New York and Milan (where they produced Falstaff) and to Japan (for Falstaff and Richard Strauss' Salome). In 1986, he became principal guest conductor of the Frankfurt Opera. He has guest conducted widely in the opera houses of Europe, including the leading opera houses of Geneva, the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées of Paris, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Amsterdam, Rome, Toulouse, Nice, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Brussels, as well as in Los Angeles, Australia, and Canada. In addition to conducting the Royal Opera, he has made appearances with the English National Opera.

Armstrong's important festival appearances include his BBC Promenade Concerts debut in 1989 and a 1992 Edinburgh International Festival production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron.

In July 1993 he became music director of the Scottish Opera and served that position until 2005. Among the operas he has conducted there are Maria Stuarda, The Jacobin, La Traviata, Il trovatore, Turandot, Peter Grimes, Salome, Verdi's lesser-known I due Foscari, the Janácek operas Káta Kabanová and From the House of the Dead, Fidelio, and Tristan und Isolde.

Armstrong has conducted some important premieres. In a co-production with the Scottish Opera and English National Opera he gave the United Kingdom premiere of Alfred Schnittke's Life with an Idiot and the world premieres of John Metcalf's Tornrak (1990, WNO), James MacMillan's Inés de Castro (Scottish Opera), and Peter Maxwell Davies' The Doctor of Myddfai.

Armstrong is also active as a concert conductor and has led virtually every major U.K. orchestra and such foreign orchestras as the Japan Philharmonic and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. In 1997, Richard Armstrong received the United Kingdom Conductor of the Year Award from the Royal Philharmonic Music Society.

In celebration of Janácek's 150th birthday, Armstrong conducted Káta Kabanová in 2004. He has conducted on recordings of Britten's works (2008), Scarlatti's Euridice dall'Inferno (2009), and a best-of Mozart effort (2011).

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